Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Boy Erased (2018) - Movie Review

Gay conversion therapy is a tough thing to write about. Partly because it is an extremely harrowing subject that doesn’t lend itself to easy composition, but mainly because I don’t want this review to devolve into me just ranting about the practice. At any rate, it’s something that continues to be administered in far too much of the Western world, and it serves as the main focus of the latest from Australian cinematic titan Joel Edgerton. Adapted from the memoir of Garrard Conley, which goes into the horrifying things that take place within ex-gay therapy centres, Edgerton finds himself in prime form, delivering a story that seriously needed to be told.

This film does not shy away from the dehumanising things that Edgerton’s Victor Sykes does to the people seeking conversion, and not just in regards to the physical abuse. Edgerton, both as a writer and as an actor, shows unnerving understanding of the language employed by these services; the sentences are thin shells of want for mortal absolution that only just hide the self-destructive behaviours at their core.

When inflicted on Lucas Hedges as the puzzlingly-renamed Jared, or fabled indie filmmaker Xavier Dolan as the epitome of internalised hate in Jon, or Britton Sear as Cameron who shows some serious hero stripes during the finale, it makes for some truly heart-breaking stuff. Even removed from the initial spine chills of realising that this is an actual thing in our world, the way that the actors and Edgerton’s stunningly blunt writing bring it to the forefront will pull tears right out of the ducts.

But beyond just showing the process itself, the portrayal of its effects are remarkably complex, especially given the subject matter. We are basically given the full spectrum of things that can happen within this setup, both for those in the program and those on the outside looking in. Some see the abuse for what it is and remove themselves and others from it, some don’t. Some break free from the spiral of echoed self-loathing that accusations of damage and inherent mortal sin bring, some don’t. Some make the necessary disconnections from toxic individuals to keep their lives and their sanities intact, some don’t. All captured by Eduard Grau’s cinematography, bringing that same sense of suburban terror that made his work on The Gift so chilling. Except here, that terror is directed towards something far more tangible, yet just as reliant on the destructive power that lies can have on the human mind.

The film closes with text over a black screen explaining that gay conversion therapy is still legal in the majority of American states. Here in my and Joel Edgerton’s home country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that ex-gay therapy is "just not an issue for me and I’m not planning to get engaged in the issue". Whatever conversation clearly needs to be had regarding this, I doubt that there’s a better starter to that conversation than this truly heart-wrenching drama.

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