Boy Erased is an exceptional film. From the camerawork to the music, everything reminds you of how personal this story is. Directed by Joel Edgerton and based on a memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley, we’re allowed to see and feel Jared’s (Garrard’s) story from the first moment. This is a story about pain; the pain caused by conversion therapy, a practice that skill exists in 2019, focusing on one man’s story. Yet it still has moments of hope scattered throughout, and ultimately reminds us that families can heal and people can survive.
Lucas Hedges plays Jared with a clear determination. He’s careful and considerate, a boy brought up to know what is expected of him. It is this expectation, coupled with religion, that leads him to accept entering into the conversion therapy program. His pastor father, played by Russell Crowe, leans on his faith and the old men around him to steer his son to a so-called path of redemption. Better to think the problem can be solved than question if there actually is a problem. His mother, beautifully portrayed by Nicole Kidman, is also under the thumb of her church and husband’s expectations, so much so that she lets her child be subjected to this dangerous “treatment”.
Within this story of pain, we’re shown the lifelines that exist – the threads of potential paths that could be taken; we see the olive branches that are offered, mostly between the people in the program, though not exclusively. Jared is told by his Doctor that she knows he is normal, that he has a choice, though he doesn’t take her up on this offer of help. Some of the other men/boys in the program speak to Jared at one time or another about how to get through, how to survive or succeed in the program. Troye Sivan plays Gary, who’s well meaning and seemingly not regretful, and who offers Jared the advice of playing the part. Contrastly, Xavier Dolan’s Jon insists that only the most extreme measures will ensure Jared makes it out, cured and better.We get glimpses of happiness within the main arc of Jared’s time in the program. Flashbacks to college allow Hedges to show Jared in a happier, freer time. He’s still unsure of his feelings but the potential of it scares him in the way it would anyone who has been on the queer journey of self discovery. He has meaningful interactions with a few other men, some for the better and some certainly for the worse. It’s painful to see scenes where, in a gay indie movie, we might get the start of a fleeting romance, turn horrid. This sense of misery is felt again and again, at different points in Jared’s life, in the lives of the queer people around him. Self hatred brought on by shame and fear that destroys from within.
The soundtrack pairs perfectly with the changing moods and moments of Boy Erased, using strings to increase the intensity, or piano to play on your thoughts when Jared is feeling internal. Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans have created a haunting and moving soundtrack with a song by Troye Sivan and Jónsi being the epitome of the mood of the film.
Bookending this story are montages from the author’s own life. It begins with video clips of Garrard as a young boy, sweet visuals of him with his family, being happy, as if to say: ‘I need you to know, it wasn’t all bad’. The photographs at the end show that he came out the other side, another glimmer of hope.