Choice and change with conversion therapy drama 'Boy Erased'

08 Feb 2019 BY Michael Prescott in Film Features

4 mins
Boy Erased
Boy Erased

Based on the memoirs of the lead character, Boy Erased is a drama which sees Jared, a teenage boy from Arkansas, sent to a gay conversion therapy centre by his religious parents.

Following on from The Miseducation of Cameron Post (which hit UK cinemas in September 2018, and is now available for Into Film Clubs to order on DVD), this is the second film to tackle the prevalent, yet very controversial topic and practice of gay "conversion therapy". In the case of Cameron Post, the narrative was almost entirely focused on life within the four walls of a conversion centre, and the friendships the protagonist forms there, whereas Boy Erased expands the scope to deal with Jared's experiences beforehand and afterwards.

The scenes within the centre itself may feel a little overfamiliar for those who saw The Miseducation of Cameron Post, hitting as they do the expected narrative beats of lectures around the evils of same-sex attraction, group therapy and expression. Boy Erased does, however, find its own voice in the space outside of the therapy centre; most convincingly in Jared's complex relationships, especially with his parents. Jared's mother Nancy is protective of her son, demonstrated by a recurring motif in which she begs him not to hang his arm out of the car window lest it be torn off by an oncoming vehicle, and finds the inner strength to take action and protect him as the story develops. His father Marshall, a Baptist preacher with stauncher views, finds it more difficult to balance his son's sexuality with his faith, believing the two to be contradictory.

The film's desire to give layers to most of its characters is demonstrated further with a religious scientist who tells Jared that tests will show him to be a perfectly normal boy, and that change, in this sense, is simply not possible. Boy Erased is all about change and choice; realising what we have the power to control, and being brave enough to face up to the things that can't be changed. The beginning of the story shows a car license plate with the state of Arkansas motto "land of opportunity" clearly displayed - an ironic nod to the freedoms and agency taken away from the characters via the state allowing conversion therapy. Indeed, 35 US states still allow the practice, with New York in late January 2019 being the most recent to join a growing number to outlaw the procedure which has affected over 700,000 US teenagers alone. The practice was only outlawed by the UK government in July 2018. Change is necessary, but in legislation - not through trying to alter someone's sexuality.

Another strength of Boy Erased is in its casting. Supporting characters - other boys in the retreat - are played by the likes of Troye Sivan, who also provided an original song, Revelation, for the film's soundtrack; and Xavier Dolan, predominantly known as a writer-director, but also a a singer-songwriter himself. These performers are part of the next generation of LGBTQ+ talent that young audiences can relate to, with large fanbases and loyal followers (Sivan is just shy of 10m Instagram followers; Xavier Dolan wrote, directed and starred in his acclaimed first film I Killed My Mother at the age of just 20). Lucas Hedges, who plays protagonist Jared, is a young actor who has made an enormous impression over the last few years, being Oscar® nominated for Manchester by the Sea and Golden Globe nominated for his turn in Boy Erased, as well as playing an LGBTQ+ role in Lady Bird and experiencing a different sort of complex parental relationship in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Although not explicitly "gay cinema" titles, half of this year's Best Picture contenders at the Academy Awards prominently feature LGBTQ+ characters and issues (ViceThe FavouriteBohemian Rhapsody and Green Book all have LGBTQ+ sub-plots, as does Mary Queen of Scots), which might be evidence of an increase in visibility within cinema and a need for more stories like this to be told. Given that it's LGBT History Month, now is an appropriate time to celebrate queer cinema, which is why our Spring Screenings this year focus on LGBTQ+ films. You can book free tickets now and explore much more LGBTQ+-related content on our new LGBTQ+ theme page, containing blogs, film lists, resources, videos and more.

Boy Erased is in cinemas across the UK on Friday 8 February.

Michael Prescott

Michael Prescott, Curation Coordinator (Learning)

Michael has an MA in Film Studies with Screenwriting from Sheffield Hallam University. He has previously worked at the British Council and on the BFI Film Academy, and has volunteered at organisations including Sheffield Doc/Fest and Cinema for All.

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