‘Boy Erased’ Takes a Muted Approach Against Conversion Therapy

Theodore Pellerin stars as “Xavier” and Lucas Hedges stars as “Jared” in Joel Edgerton’s BOY ERASED, a Focus Features release. Photo: Focus Features

Boy Erased, now in local theaters, is another LGBT film that attempts to pull at its audience’s heartstrings. Though it did inspire the occasional near-tear, director Joel Edgerton’s film focused too much on one man’s story and not enough on the human rights issue of conversion therapy, a practice that’s still legal in 36 states even though it has been discredited by medical and mental health organizations.

Author Garrard Conley on the set of Joel Edgerton’s BOY ERASED.  Photo: Focus Features

Set in Bible Belt Arkansas in the recent past, the movie is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same title (although the Conley character is named Jared in the film). Jared is a college freshman (played by Lucas Hedges) when he finds himself outed to his mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman), and his father, Marshall (Russell Crowe), who isalso the pastor of their Baptist church.

In an attempt to save their son, they send him to a conversion therapy camp, where the counselors try to strip the campers of their LGBT identities in a futile attempt to “pray the gay away.” Conley struggles in silence with his identity as an individual and a devoted son.

We see glimpses of the camp’s efforts, using fear and peer pressure to persuade queer youth to live the life that society thought was right for them. But the film failed to chronicle the deep horrors and scarring pain often involved in conversion therapy.

Nicole Kidman stars as Nancy and Lucas Hedges as Jared in Joel Edgerton’s BOY ERASED.  Photo: Focus Features

When Jared can’t continue at the camp, Nancy removes him from the program, standing up to the societal expectation of her religious circle and to her husband. The film concludes with the father’s nonverbal tolerance, not acceptance, of his son.

The parents were played stiffly, reacting with muted emotions to their son’s identity. I was left wanting more tears and fights, yelling and plate-smashing.

In a nutshell, this is not meant to be a film for the LGBT community. We all know that conversion therapy is BS and that it drives vulnerable youth to self-hatred and, sadly, suicide. Instead, this film is an anecdotal attempt to instill an “ah-ha” moment for anyone still considering the validity of conversion therapy.

Boy Erased is Netflix/Redbox worthy, but to make it a go-to addition to the LGBT canon, we needed more of a focus on the cruelty of conversion therapy.


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