Last week a prominent conversion therapy campaigner David Matheson, came out as gay after spending decades coaching countless people back into the closet. Matheson took to Facebook to publicly apologize, after an LGBT+ advocacy group leaked a private conversation reclaiming his homosexuality. Matheson has since then publicly apologized, an action that perhaps pales in comparison to all the suffering he has inflicted on hundreds, if thousands of individuals as a therapist and director of gay conversion Centre for Gender Wholeness.
In the closing credits of Boy Erased, released this Friday, shocking statistics reveal that at least 700,000 individuals, in the US alone, have attempted gay conversion therapy and amongst this group of individuals its twice to three times as likely for them to commit suicide. Its a recurring theme in LGBT+ movies including last year’s brilliant subtler offering The Miseducation of Cameron Post which told the tale of teenage girl's experiences at a gay coversion center in early 90s. Based on the titular biographical novel by Garrard Conley, a real life account of burgeoning teenage homosexuality once exposed is prompted by religious parents into gay conversion therapy assessment program Love-In-Action.
Jared Eamons is played exceptionally by Lucas Hedges, who still doesn’t look like a day older than fifteen, confused by his own sexual leanings is forced to come out when a close college friend proceeds to rape him and then oust him to his parents. Jared’s dad a pastor Marshall (played by a burly Russell Crowe) and his wife Nancy’s (a peroxide blonde Nicole Kidman) natural inclinations are to find a cure for their son’s supposed pathology.
Its at Love-In-Action, where we meet chief therapist Viktor Sykes (played by Joel Edgerton who co-writes and directs) and we become privy to the various troubling methodologies used by him and his aids, in bid to remove homosexual urges. Edgerton's Sykes imposes a military style intervention; mobiles and notebooks are confiscated, any effeminate mannerisms are reprimanded, boys of the group are ranked accordingly to their masculine looks, pupils are requested to do a moral inventory of them and their parents where they obligated to devulge all their sexual deviances in front of the whole class. In one shocking scene Sykes along with his helpers recreate a mock-funeral of one of the pupils; his hypothetical death caused by a myriad of gay-stereotyped ailments from AIDS to drug overdoses, a symbolic outcome if the pupil carries on being gay.
Sykes character is based on ex-Minister John Smid, who is also now a reformed homosexual and lives with his male partner. It simply begs the question; why is it that the ones imposing these practices are seemingly gay themselves? Perhaps making themselves the perfect example that these practices work? Religious dogma? Financial gains? A desire to inflict their own self-hate on to others? Perhaps all of the above and then some.
Kidman's presence in the trailer initially had me doubt the film’s authenticity, the big star in the movie hogging all the attention, distracting from the film’s serious theme, but of course and expectedly, she brings it. Underneath the brash get-up and her out-going colloquialism, she injects a naivety into Nancy, more perplexed than appalled by her son’s homosexuality and the unexpectedness and turmoil the situation has brought to her life.
As is the case with Jared and his family, its usually naïve parents in austere religious settings or the individuals themselves within these settings made to seek gay conversion as an answer, ostensibly a traumatic one, that would alleviate the external pressure to fit in. Edgerton has masterfully depicted all these intricasies, with very little judgement by providing the perspective, no matter how flawed, of each side. But he also simultaneously questions the validity of such fundamentalist practices, highlighting the manner with which it twists Christian teachings and uses fluffy psychotherapy to discard logic and sane judgement.
Boy Erased is released on February 8th, 2019.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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