Today in Australia and New Zealand there are some 10 organisations promoting the practice of same sex attraction conversion therapy. To make this worse there are a large number of organisations practicing this conversion therapy that don’t promote what they do. In a recent report issued by the Human Rights Law Centre, Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, and La Trobe University stated that about 10 per cent of the LGBT community are vulnerable to these institutions.
For most people it was assumed these organisations were a thing of the past. When Writer and Director Joel Edgerton of Boy Erased, a film about conversion therapy, would tell people he was working on a film with such subject matter, “they were like oh when’s it set in the 50s, in the 60s?” Edgerton said.
“It [Boy Erased] was set in the early 2000s but is very much going on today in American and Australia. Where young people are against their will or under duress by their families sent to places where they’re supposed to feel like its possible to reorient their sexuality. And of course I think that’s a very damaging thing to present to a child”, expressed Edgerton.
Joel Edgerton is an Australian Actor who is greatly paving his way as a Director in Hollywood. Edgerton started to become a household name when he starred in the hit Australian TV show, The Secret Life of Us. With a long list of successful acting roles it wasn’t until Edgerton showed Hollywood he isn’t one to mess with when he Directed, The Gift.
Edgerton was interviewed by Magda Szubanski live in front of an audience who were about to watch his latest Directorial efforts with Boy Erased. Edgerton not only Directed by also wrote the screenplay and was one of the main actors in the film.
When Szubanski asked him what it was that made him want to make Boy Erased, he said he still isn’t quite sure but there was something that got under his skin. Possibly linked to the interest he had in institutions growing up.
“I was terrified about being sent away from my parents. I was obsessed with the ideas of being sent to boarding school, prison, military. And as I grew having an interest in film at least or being an actor I loved movies about that stuff”, he said.
The film Boy Erased is based on the 2016 memoirs by the same name by Garrard Conley. Following his life as his religious parents make the decision to help their son with conversion therapy.
“I read it [Boy Erased memoir] very quickly because of the salacious reason but what I came out of was a story about a family that had this chance of a restoration or reformation. And it felt to me like it was very fertile ground to make a movie of because of the optimism that came out of the back end of it, the hopefulness of it”, said Edgerton.
Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges) has moved from his parents and living on campus of his University. Here he becomes good friends with Henry (Joe Alwyn) a fellow church goer and runner. As the two had a lot in common Jared started to build a crush on Henry. One night when Henry stayed as they had been playing games late into the night Henry raped Jared.
For Henry to feel better about his actions he outed Jared to his parents and so Jared’s parents Nancy (Nicole Kidman) and Baptist Pastor father Marshall (Russell Crowe) decide to help him by sending him to conversion therapy to “pray the gay away”.
In Jareds time at the conversion therapy he learns that despite his religion these teachings are doing more harm than good when a fellow classmate takes his own life. Jared calls Nancy when he realises his teacher Victor Sykes is himself a homosexual despite teaching these boys how not to be gay.
Nancy suddenly comes to terms with what is going on and stands up for herself and her son though this doesn’t align with Marshall. There are some hard years until Jared finds the courage to talk to his father and lay out exactly how their relationship will go, or not.
“This was a story of a family, there was more of a foundation of love there that the family didn’t stop loving Jarrad. They just felt they had their beliefs that said there was a way of turning him around”, explains Edgerton.
The most curious part of this story is the fact that Jared has little hatred toward those that have caused him greif. It is almost as if he understand where they are coming from and can empathise with them and their decisions.
But the part of the story that is most concerning is the fact that Jared’s parents believe they have made this decision to send him to conversion therapy out of love and want for Jared to get better. They have no malice in what they are doing. They are so passionate about their religion that they believe what they are doing is the right thing. They never stopped loving their son. And this is where it becomes concerning for young people in the similar situation.
“Garrard had such an empathy for the people that fed him ideas or pushed him into the place and he didn’t paint anybody as a villain. He really actually acknowledged that part of the scariness of what he went through was that they were there to help,” said Edgerton when explaining the story.
Playing the challenging role of Jared was Lucas Hedges (Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing MIssouri, Lady Bird, Moonrise Kingdom). Hedges captures an innocence with this role. An innocence to the world and an innocence to what he’s letting these people do to him. Hedges manages to take the viewer on a rollercoaster of emotion bringing a real connection. So much so that in a scene where he is raped, it is so raw and real it’s actually hard to stomach.
Alongside Hedges is Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe as his parents. This is the first film the two have worked together and bring an amazing chemistry to the screen making it surprising this hasn’t already been done.
“They felt very comfortable together they were very keen to work together. I felt like I had two great partners”, said Edgerton.
Edgerton tells the story of how quickly the two got onboard with Boy Erased and how nervous he was having to direct his idols.
“They were like the two holding the machetes cutting their way thru the forest to LA. They paved the way that give me inspiration. Then all of a sudden they answered the call to a movie that I wanted to make and I’ve got to tell them what to do”, he said.
Edgerton went onto explain the process of getting Boy Erased to the screen after having read Garrard Coley’s memoirs. Edgerton says he met with Gerrard and those who had been through conversion therapy. He asked Gerrard to write the screenplay, “he was like I’ve already written the book, I don’t want to write the screenplay”, laughed Edgerton.
“Along the way as I went deeper in the process I kept getting involved sending him the draft of the script and asking him his opinion. I felt more than anything like a passenger to his story and I felt the privilege that I was an instrument to tell his story”, he said.
Boy Erased is a confronting and highly emotionally charged story. It’s a story that needs to be told. If not only to bring awareness to what is happening, but “more importantly for parents as a sort of a road map of sorts about how to get to a place that’s more about love than about judgement and fear of their own judgement in their own community”, expressed Edgerton.
Review & Interview by Jay Cook