January 11, 2019

Boy Erased (2018)

Lucas Hedges, Joel Edgerton, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe

Sometimes movies can be really difficult to talk about it. The emotions they evoke, the stories they tell--even the powerful lessons gleaned from them. Some stories are so difficult to discuss that I'd rather people just watch them and spend some time reflecting on them. But then of course, there's the risk that certain populations would never watch it at all. Or watch it and somehow still not come away with the lessons they should have. Because while art is supposed to be left to interpretation of the consumer, this movie most definitely has a lesson, and there IS a wrong conclusion to draw from it.

So, I'm going to dive in.

For those unaware, this movie follows the true story of an 18-year-old son of a Baptist preacher who is sent to church gay conversion therapy after being outed to his parents. It is a painful watch. It's sad, dark, and emotional. But what makes the story powerful is actually the nuance woven into the story. It's presented in a delicate way so as to not turn off the viewer immediately. What do I mean by that?

First off, Hedges' parents, portrayed by Kidman and Crowe, are not Bible thumping monsters. Yes, they send him to conversion therapy. But they aren't physically abusive. They don't scream at him or hurl hateful insults about him (or other gay people). They show moments of love and tenderness and show just how common it is for parents to believe they are doing the right thing for their child, even when that thing is completely monstrous. They don't see it. They don't see themselves as monsters. And much of the outside world doesn't either, which only makes it more complicated and difficult for the child affected by all of it.

The conversion therapy they send him to is equally nuanced. I mean, it's not, in that it's clearly terrible to subject children (or anyone) to this kind of shaming and proselytizing about their sins, but it's also not electroshock therapy and physical abuse (which yes, also happens at some conversation therapy "camps.") So while it was clearly horrific for me to watch, I could also heavily religious people see all of this and sort of tsk tsk while thinking to themselves it doesn't seem that bad. By not crossing that line into the cartoonishily villainous (which I think electroshock therapy counts as), it keeps the audience engaged and frightened the entire time. 

Yes, I meant to use the word frightened. Because this movie is terrifying. It's sad, to be sure, but more than anything, it's frightening. It's frightening to think that gay conversion therapy on minors is allowed in 36 states (as stated in the movie's postscript). It's frightening to think that parents could beat, abuse, or even just excommunicate their child because he/she is gay. It's frightening to think of these children, dealing with so much already (including assault or other harassment they can't talk about for fear of outing themselves), losing the support and love of their parents. And it's frightening to think of the millions upon millions of people in the world who would like nothing more than to use religion to tell gay people that they should hate themselves. That is really the hardest part of it all to watch.

So yeah, this movie is difficult to watch. And it's even more difficult to talk about. But we need to. Because like the movie said, gay conversion therapy is still allowed on minors in 36 states.

Final word: Oh My God. Literally.

P.S. I really did not want to knock anything about this movie because it's so good, but two Australians faking Texas accents was... not my favorite.

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