A question of family or faith


Director: Joel Edgerton

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman

Running time: 115 minutes

V erdict: A college student fights for his very existence in this compelling real-life drama

FOUR STARS

JOEL Edgerton finds the soft centre of hardcore “gay conversion therapy” in this powerful coming-of-age story.

By treating all of his characters with respect — and even, dare I say it, compassion — the writer-actor-director offers up a thoughtful study of faith, courage and prejudice.

Based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name, Boy Erased honours the core Christian values of forgiveness and tolerance even as it exposes terrible transgressions made in the religion’s name.

Edgerton says he took his cue from his subject, and Boy Erased paints Conley as an extraordinarily empathetic young man.

But that doesn’t negate his increasingly solid sense of his own self-worth, and that’s what makes the unassuming 19-year-old college jock such a fascinating protagonist.

Boy Erased isn’t a story of victims and aggressors so much as a gently subversive tale of what happens when a young man stands his ground.

Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) is the son of small-town Baptist minister Marshall Eamons (Russell Crowe) and his cheerfully compliant wife Nancy (Nicole Kidman).

After an ugly incident instigated by a fellow student, Jared is outed to his family as gay.

A devastated Marshall Eamons turns to his fellow clergymen for counsel.

Since the church regards homosexuality as a sin, Jared must be cured of his “affliction”.

If he doesn’t attend the centre run by Victor Sykes (Edgerton), Jared will be ostracised by his family, community and church.

What’s perhaps most shocking about this psychologically crude and primitive institution is the era in which it exists.

Boy Erased takes place not in the “bad old days” but in a near-contemporary setting.

As a director, Edgerton doesn’t so much give his cast free rein — moments of high drama are tightly controlled — as allow them the room to do what it is they do best.

The film’s success rests with Hedges, who like his character, conducts himself with quiet assurance and steady intelligence.

But he is well supported by Crowe, who relishes the opportunity to flesh out a more ordinary, whitebread version of masculinity, and Kidman, who triumphs over another shocking wig to add one more finely calibrated version of motherhood to what is becoming an extraordinary body of work.

Nancy is perhaps the unsung hero of the piece.

As Jared struggles to reconcile the church’s teachings with his own personal experience, she, too, undergoes a subtle transformation.

Nancy’s love for her son is what ultimately gives her the courage to challenge the patriarchal institution that has stifled them both.

The story’s resolution feels as though it has been earned rather than imposed.

A compelling true-life drama.

BOY ERASED OPENS ON THURSDAY



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