Joel Edgerton already knows who’s going to see “Boy Erased” when it opens Friday. Based on the 2016 memoir of the same name by Garrard Conley, the movie details a gay teen’s time at a “conversion therapy” camp. The Christian organization that runs the facility believes that homosexuality is a choice and that gay men and women can be coached into being “normal” — that is, straight.
“No doubt liberal-minded parents and blue state folk who have an open mind towards sexuality are probably going to be the first people in the door,” says Edgerton, who directed the film, wrote the screenplay and plays Victor Sykes, the head of the camp. “But I think there are parents out there who are open-minded enough who may be having a situation under their own roof [they’re] maybe keeping private, or they have a brother or sister whose children are going through it. Anyone who relates in any direct or indirect way to this subject matter may have enough of an open mind to go watch the movie, and then use it as a bit of a road map.”
The road isn’t easy for the family in the film. After Jared (Lucas Hedges) is outed to his parents — Marshall, a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe), and Nancy (Nicole Kidman) — they offer the teen a choice: Go to the camp, or get out of the house.
During the program, Jared and the other attendees (ranging in age from preteen to adult) are subjected to mental and physical abuse — all of which they are instructed to keep secret, as telling anyone would interfere with the process of “healing.”
Edgerton, who starred in 2016’s “Loving” and this year’s “Red Sparrow,” says he was careful not to frame Jared’s parents as evil or cruel.
“Our identification of people around us as heroes and villains is a really subjective thing,” Edgerton says. “When you really examine [the parents], their feeling about homosexuality was based on the information that they had — which was that homosexuality was not something you could be born [into], that it was a choice, that it was sinful, that it was possible to turn that choice around. It meant there was a way to help their son. It isn’t a villainous thing; it’s misinformation.”
That doesn’t mean Edgerton wanted to paint Marshall and Nancy in a sympathetic light, either. “I wanted to make sure I told [Conley’s] story honestly,” he says, “and let the audience have their own point of view, rather than for me to force that point on them.”
In the end, Edgerton sees “Boy Erased” as a story of hope emerging from a struggle. “It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake; it’s what you do next that counts,” he says. “I really think that human beings are defined very heroically when they’re willing to acknowledge a wrong choice and follow it up with a right one.”