These are the kinds of things Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton) proclaims to the attendees of his Refuge Program at the beginning of “Boy Erased.”
“We’ve got to learn… where this behavior comes from,” Sykes asserts to his conversion therapy patients, “so we can change it!”
The film, also directed by Edgerton, is based on Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name and follows Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) as he struggles with being outed as gay – and the consequences that holds for a pastor’s son in small-town Arkansas.
That we’re aware of the setting is important, and the close-up of the state motto on that license plate is about as blatant and ironic a message as they come: The Land of Opportunity.
“Boy Erased” packs an emotional punch. Being a behind-the-fourth-wall witness to the verbal and psychological dehumanization of these therapy patients in the name of religion is deeply troubling.
And if not for the compelling performances from this ensemble cast as well as the steadying sensitivity of Edgerton’s direction, this movie might be too daunting to sit through.
“I wish none of this had ever happened,” Jared states. “But sometimes I thank God that it did.”
A quick glance at Hedges’ filmography proves that at almost 22 years old his talents are legit.
The troubled youth/coming-of-age roles are his specialty – “Manchester by the Sea,” “Lady Bird,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and the upcoming “Ben is Back” – and he’s so good that it almost hurts to watch him do his thing.
At this point it’s not a matter of if but when he’ll take home an Oscar (watch out, Timothée Chalamet!)
The bouffant blonde ’do, caked-on lipstick, perfect French manicure, fine threads and fancy jewelry cannot conceal yet another stunning portrayal from Nicole Kidman.
As Jared’s mother, Nancy, Kidman starts off distant yet strong and just gets better as the film progresses – proving to be an explosive force in one especially memorable sequence.
Equally as moving is Pastor Eamons’ (Russell Crowe) profoundly weighty 11th-hour conversation with his son. My god!
I could hear sniffling throughout the theater, and I’m telling you it was completely justified.
The look of the film makes this story feel exactly like the personal tale it represents.
Edgerton’s shot selection is both delicate and purposeful, with softened images and intimate close-ups and camera movement that’s so subtle you’ll barely even notice.
But you’ll feel every bit of the desperation.
Let’s discuss the restroom confrontation between Jared and Brandon (Flea, superbly icky here), shall we?
That shot of Jared’s eyes, barely visible as he peers over the top edge of the partition, is wickedly unsettling. Edgerton masterfully creates a palpable distrust that, without so much as a single word, says far more than any verbal exchange ever could.
And what happens next pushes the tension of this scene completely over the edge.
Edgerton’s vision emanates an organic quality, and its beautiful composition helps to counter-balance this harsh and nightmarish narrative. God bless!
Some of the events here are predictable while others very much are not – and they’ll rattle you to the core, so buckle up.
“Boy Erased” is exhausting. And punishing. And alarming.
There are moments that will make you feel hopeful and others that’ll just make you angry.
With such captivating displays of talent on both sides of the camera I fully expect “Boy Erased” will generate Oscar nominations for its cast and its director.
Joel Edgerton gives us exactly the story we need to see – good or bad – to fully understand and appreciate Jared’s journey.