I saw a preview screening of Boy Erased last night, the film adaptation of Gerrard Conley’s confessional autobiography on his harrowing experiences with conversion therapy during the noughties. Directed by Joel Edgerton, the film stars Aussie icons Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman in supporting roles and offers a sobering look at the prison of belief and its ramifications on the innocent.
Lucas Hedges channels Conley’s ambivalence with precision and is perfect at harnessing innocence and resolve in the same breath. Much like myself, Conley is a sucker for knowledge and is hungry to fill his head with new ideas. Desperate for the continued love and respect of his devout parents, he dives into the therapy with an open mind and a dash of hope.
While I will admit the film didn’t move me to any emotional catharsis I quickly realized that I wasn’t the film’s target market. Having been blessed with incredible educational opportunities and parents that valued and cultivated independent offspring, I personally believe in an individuals right to free will. Authority figures and institutions that encourage experimentation and a process of elimination in order to unlock our truest self.
The intended audience are men and women that lean towards the foundations of religion over science, who share in the blind belief of divinity over all else. In tackling this issue with a sense of openness, Edgerton has done the impossible. He has created a story that has a real shot at starting a conversation.
Fielding questions following the screening, Edgerton was everything we pride our Australian talent on and more. He was polite, cheeky and engaging (with requisite laissez-faire grace), exuding great humility and appreciation for his continued success. Much like its creator, the film doesn’t preach, nor does it pointedly stereotype characters for the benefit of couch potatoes.
Watching the therapy scenes were especially revealing but not for the obvious reasons. Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) hails as the head counsellor and spends much of his screen time railing and ranting against the iniquities of modern life (drugs, alcohol and promiscuity to name a few).
Yet all that noise rings hollow for the simple reason that Sykes is just as terrified as his pupils, a middle-aged man fighting and failing to maintain the moral high-ground. It’s hardly surprising that the real-life Sykes was found to have succumbed to the same fate as our protagonist, falling in love and wedding the love of his life — another man.