Review / ‘Boy Erased’ (MA) *** and a half

FANS of anthologies of short jokes will no doubt recall this one. Graffiti on the wall of a public toilet cubicle:

“My mother made me a homosexual.”

“If I provide the wool, will she make me one?”

Not subtle. On its surface rather unkind. But on reflection, a symptom of the grievous intolerance that once blighted the lives of same-sex lovers and which Garrard Conley wrote about in a memoir about the morality and ethics of conversion therapy.

What’s conversion therapy? It is a perversion of the idea once held that gay men were suffering a curable condition, that their sexuality was learned, not natural. “Boy Erased” confronts and dismisses that misconception.

Names have been changed but it’s Garrard Conley’s story and salvation. And credit to Joel Edgerton who adapted Garrard’s book into a screenplay, directed this film and plays Victor Sykes whose overt malignant abhorrence of gay men serves as its quasi-villain.

The resulting film is powerful cinema, displaying religious fervour as the spring from which conversion therapy flows. Lucas Hedges plays Jared, adult son of Baptist minister Marshall (Russell Crowe) and devout Christian Nancy (Nicole Kidman). He comes out in early adulthood. Marshall insists that he undertake the therapy at a nearby college, supervised by Victor Sykes with an iron fist on one hand and a bible in the other.

From a beginning of intolerance, “Boy Erased” slowly and sometimes cruelly moves forward to the kind of outcome that this country so recently voted indirectly to support under the umbrella of same-sex marriage. The actors project deep commitment to their task, especially Britton Sear as Cameron who suffers for his belief and solves his problem in the cruellest way.

It sends a substantial message for audiences of whatever faith and sexuality.

At Dendy, Palace Electric, Capitol 6 and Hoyts Belconnen

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