I wish I could have interview Joel Edgerton about LOVING. I grew up hearing at that couple. They were heroes to my mother. Mom showed me their photos in magazines.
BOY ERASED is about an Arkansas youth in his late teens whose parents talk him into entering a gay conversion therapy program. His father is a Baptist preacher. Dad is the kind of man who believes one can "pray the gay away." Dad prays constantly. He runs a car dealership. The employees begin each workday with a short prayer circle before they sell cars.
Male and females enter a building that looks like a typical office space. They are wear white spirits, pants and sit through lectures about how same sex attraction puts one in the express line to Hell. Lucas Hedges plays Jared, the young man trying to keep himself in the closet. The thought of this kind of program, a program we've heard about in news reports, seems a bit laughable until Jared has to check-in for his conversion stay. In that scene, you get your first jolt. It's like he's behind the Iron Curtain -- like a scene you'd associate with the 2006 foreign film, THE LIVES OF OTHERS. That film took us back to East Berlin in 1984.
Jared can't keep a personal journal. It has to be read by a conversion staff member. He has to subject to "Moral Inventory." He's asked to give a blood sample so his testosterone levels can be checked. Flea, the bass player for Red Hot Chili Peppers, has a supporting role as a martinet of a conversion therapy instructor. He's a leader in "Masculinity Training." Males are taught to stand arms akimbo because "triangles are the strongest shapes." One who fails a lesson is spanked with a Bible.
Joel Edgerton plays a conversion instructor, a real-life character who heaped on the verbal shame and guilt. In addition to directing, Edgerton also wrote the screenplay. As Jared's parents, we see Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. Edgerton is an Australian. So is Kidman. Crowe hails from New Zealand. Nicole Kidman and Russell, both Oscars winners, received nominations from the Australian Film Critics Association for BOY ERASED. So did New Yorker Lucas Hedges.
Joel Edgerton's direction and screenplay are compact and compassionate. He doesn't present someone as a villain. He shows what's flawed and human in the misguided father, the passive mother and the closeted son. We care about all three. It's obvious that actor/director/screenwriter Joel Edgerton cares about the LGBTQ community.
The conversion program turns out be the terrifying. There's emotional abuse and a sexual assault. Another terrifying element as that parents and therapy instructors believed being gay was a choice -- like learning how to play a sport.
If you get HBO, check your listings for other airings of BOY ERASED. Definitely sit through the start of the closing credits to read what became of real-life characters portrayed in the film.