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Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 12:04 am

Erased: A tale of understanding

There’s a vital, timely message of hope contained in Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased. At first glance it appears to be about one young man’s struggle with coming to terms with his sexual identity – a Christian teen raised in the Bible Belt by a conservative preacher and mother wrestling with feelings of homosexuality – but there’s much more at play. In a time of divisive and sometime violent partisanship, the film powerfully portrays the strength that comes from adhering to your beliefs while being open to others holding fast to their own. That this might be seen as a radical notion to some shows how fractured our society has become, making the movie’s themes of acceptance and compromise all the more important.

Based on the memoir by Jared Eamons, the film examines the confusion he felt from being raised in a staunchly conservative, religion-driven home while having feelings he had been raised to think were sinful and abominable. Shaken to their core, his mother, Nancy (Nicole Kidman), pulls her son closer to her, reasoning that what he needs now more than anything is love and understanding. His father, Marshall (Russell Crowe), does not love his son any less, but is prepared to cast him out if he does not go to a gay conversion therapy program and eradicate this sin from their midst.

The name of this program is called “Love in Action” and its leader, Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), is a charismatic individual, initially creating an atmosphere of acceptance. Victor preaches that God’s teachings can save them, and that while Jared and his peers’ feelings may be perverse, the reason behind them is due to actions or events that were inflicted upon them.

Directing his second feature, Edgerton does a masterful job of putting the viewer in Jared’s shoes, presenting the “Love in Action” program as one based on the sort of logic a confused teen may respond to. In doing so, the young man’s confusion is all the more relatable, his inner turmoil more palpable. Edgerton’s sly sense of charisma is put to good effect here as Sykes, making it easy to understand why so many were caught in his sway.

As Jared, Lucas Hedges provides another sound, complex performance that shows once more why he’s considered one of our most promising young actors working today. The most important aspect of his turn is the strength he displays throughout. Whether confused, distraught or angry, the actor never forgets that at Jared’s core, thanks to his parents guidance, is a sense of strength and determination that’s never squelched despite the constant berating he endures. Hedges’ subtle, coiled approach proves a solid counterpoint to Kidman and Crowe’s work, the former finding depths in a seeming caricature, the latter giving his best performance in years, juggling feelings of anger, confusion and love in much the same way as his young counterpoint, with the actors providing a wonderful father-son dichotomy.

The film’s climax is one that should be used as a template for navigating the myriad of societal woes we are suffering from today. After months of not speaking directly about their differences, father and son confront one another, each in their own way offering up an olive branch as well as the sincere willingness to understand opposing beliefs and feelings. It’s a quiet, awkward, powerful moment in which each, particularly Marshall, realizes how much strength can be gained from accepting, without judgment, an opposing point of view. In doing so, the elder understands that he’s not negating that which he holds dear while his son comes to admire his father’s willingness to change. In the end, Boy Erased proves to be a progressive work with a lesson at its core we should have learned long ago.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.


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