by Brian Goins | photos courtesy Focus Features
“Boy Erased” is the story of what it means to be a human being denied of being.
It’s difficult to express to others what it feels like to be flat-out rejected by society, your friends and family — and how those rejections come in tempered, subtle layers.
“I love you, but …” is dealt out as a desire to control what another person is to better fit into another’s own idea of what is good and right. It squashes one’s authentic self, and creates a pit of self hate that can ruin a person.
Based on real-life events and a memoir written by Garrard Conley, “Erased” is the story of Jared Eamons, a small-town boy from a “good” family — a Baptist pastor father and a doting, concerned mom — played by Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman. Shortly after heading off to college, Jared is outed to his parents. He ultimately admits his homosexuality to them and they — shocked — flatly reject his declaration. While his mother quietly obeys his father’s lead, they claim that Jared will not be allowed to live under their roof if he insists on going against the very grain of their beliefs.
Faced with the threat of losing the approval and acceptance from family, Jared agrees to attend conversion therapy to prove to them that in his heart, he wants to change. With the accompaniment of his concerned mother, he begins day studies at the camp. He isn’t allowed to speak of his treatment to his mother, but each night he returns to her with shards of deep damage to his self-image.
As the events play out, you see the quiet ways that the treatment begins to tear into Jared and the other “patients” at the camp. In hoping to blot out the disappointment, despair and heartache he believes his homosexuality has caused his parents, Jared soon learns that the true disappointment lies in the belief that he can change what he is to please others.
Crowe and Kidman give careful, layered performances that give their characters vibrant life instead of flat stereotypes. Their pain and confusion is tied up in their need to control — albeit in the guise of protecting — their son. They look to their faith for answers, but unfortunately, find all the wrong solutions … none of which include unconditional love.
Hedges’ portrayal of Jared is a quiet, internal performance of what it feels like to have the desire to reconcile his sexuality to fit the rigid requirements of his parents’ pulpit.
And it is the relationship between Jared and his parents that is the profound part of this film: Jared’s deep desire to please them; Kidman’s heart-aching realizations as she learns more about her son; and Russell Crowe’s guarded and stubborn inability to look past his faith and see his son as a human being instead of something that needs to be “fixed.” Kidman’s performance, in particular, shines. Her portrayal of the mother caught between her husband’s stubbornness and loving her son through his journey is some of the most heart-wringing of the film.
“Erased” is a film for everyone to see, no matter what community they identify with. It shines a light on what it means to be human and the importance of self-acceptance in the journey of life. Maybe viewers can walk away with a little more tolerance and love in their hearts.
GO SEE IT
“Boy Erased” stars Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Troye Sivan. Directed by Joel Edgerton. Rated R for sexual content including an assault, some language and brief drug use. 114 minutes.
For complete showtimes, consult local theater listings.