Fueled by desperation, anger, and even unlikely love, an all-star cast leads the charge of a vital story of self-acceptance.
Focus Features has been having a fantastic week after releasing trailers for Mary Queen of Scots, On the Basis of Sex, and now Boy Erased. Truthfully, each of these highly-anticipated movies does bring the upcoming awards season to mind — we all recognize yet invariably love a good Oscar bait drama that’s based on a true story. Regardless, these particular movies all have the propensity to do something more than merely serve as a filmmaker’s vanity project. They carry with them a sense of social awareness that outweighs discussions about awards eligibility.
Mary Queen of Scots and On the Basis of Sex both shine the spotlight on powerful game-changing women; fearless leaders who overcome their fair share of obstacles with utmost resilience. Meanwhile, Boy Erased tilts the camera towards much less savory matters, centering on a young man who is sent to a gay conversion therapy program by ultra-religious family members. Still, hope bubbles beneath the surface of the film through its unflinching examinations of the heart-rending realities of self-actualization. Grab some tissues and experience all the feelings for yourself in the trailer below.
Boy Erased was adapted and directed by Joel Edgerton, based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name. The film follows 19-year-old Jared (Lucas Hedges), who is forced to enroll in an ex-gay program after being outed to his fundamentalist parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe).
Jared’s family delivers an ultimatum that makes him choose between the conversion therapy program and complete excommunication from the tight-knit community that he grew up in. In a program that only spews hatred and promotes self-loathing, Jared continues to struggle. He then begins butting heads with a leading “therapist” (Edgerton) at the camp. Tensions rise as Jared slowly comes to terms with who he is and what that means for his relationships to the people who raised him.
On the surface, Boy Erased appears to be a typical Hollywood drama adaptation — there’s a healthy dose of bombastic moments peppered throughout the trailer, and quiet, meaningful looks are aplenty too. The footage breaks down Jared’s narrative into vignettes that depict him as being both at peace and at war with himself and those around him. The story is accessible enough that we can easily take stock of what’s going on and situate ourselves in his perspective.
However, once there, the toxicity, isolation, and rejection that Jared experiences from those he loves actually feel palpable and unbearable. The character doesn’t speak very much in the trailer — eerily fitting for a movie with such a title. And when Jared does manage to get a word in edgewise, he is either apologetic, desperate, or defeated, even though he knows that he likes men. Jared is being purposely smothered by the supposed “love” of his community and can only resort to being reactive in order to be seen as who he is. These depictions are extremely effective at inspiring urgency and empathy in audiences, but they are difficult to witness.
Beyond Jared’s own personal fight lies the potential of addressing the painful, conflicting process of coming out in a small town, too. The fact that it’s not easy to immediately extract oneself from a closed community is briefly touched on in the Boy Erased trailer. Jared proclaims that Edgerton’s “therapist” is responsible for his anger — that “I’m not going to pretend I hate my father. I don’t hate my father!” — and it’s not only a scene of defiance; it’s one of compassion.
Of course, whether or not Jared’s father actually deserves any solicitude in Boy Erased is a debate all on its own that requires more context than any single trailer could possibly provide. What we do know is that this theme of conflicted self-acceptance is an important aspect of Conway’s personal journey. His memoir never reduces his oppressive community, particularly his actual minister father, to two-dimensional depictions. The book ultimately tells a story about long-lasting trauma that stems from abuse, purporting that understanding where its perpetrators come from doesn’t negate the damage done, and the film ought to acknowledge that.
I can’t help but watch the Boy Erased trailer and think of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, another film based on the controversy of conversion therapy that will hit the big screen this year. Both movies are obviously thematically similar, and their source materials are even based on experiences that take place within the same ex-gay ministry.
Where they diverge, though, stems from the absence of levity and definitiveness in Boy Erased. The Miseducation of Cameron Post is marketed to be more camaraderie-focused, as its characters build a community within a culture of normalized ostracization. Conversely, Boy Erased is far more focused on negotiating love amidst rejecting hate, with a protagonist that’s as much influenced by a closed-minded environment as he is driven to accept his identity fully.
If I were to guess, “tear-jerker” wouldn’t even begin to describe Boy Erased. Rather, the film seems primed to unrelenting sucker punch hearts in order to demand an understanding for the plights of others. While it will definitely be a difficult one, the movie could be an experience that’s very much worth our while.
Boy Erased hits theaters on November 2nd.