Jan 18, 2019

Boy Erased and Gay-Conversion Therapy Films of 2018

We've been singularly blessed this past year to have two superb film treatments of the controversial 'gay-conversion' therapy, still legal, unfortunately, in 36 US states. The first, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the story of a teenage girl forced into the therapy program by her conservative guardians, won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance film festival. This win ensured the film some necessary and well deserved fame, because without it the movie would have been relegated to the small art film houses, as a gay gender film, interesting for its sensitive depiction of this unfortunatel situation, but not the most compelling drama. I still recommend the film highly, for any treatment of this subject from such a sympathetic, critical viewpoint is welcome. And I really loved the trio of young teens in the film who form a sympathetic, supportive bond with each other and their thrilling escape into freedom at the end. Soul inspiring.

The second film, however, Boy Erased, of which I spoke in the previous posting, is a very compelling film that was catapulted into the mainstream by its powerhouse cast, veteran megastars (and graduates of the same acting school in Australia) Nicole Kidman and Russel Crowe, together with young and rising star, Lucas Hedges, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for best performance by an actor. And lest I forget, sizzling pop star and openly gay Troy Sevan has a cameo performance in the film and a very impressive acting debut it is. So with this kind of cast, the film's reputation was ensured and a wide audience appeal guaranteed.

Based upon a true story (we see shots of the original boy and parents at the close) the film is anchored by the dynamic, very powerful lead performance from young Lucas Hedges (nominated for too many awards and wins to mention). And while there are bigots aplenty to satisfy any righteous viewers, what most struck me about the film was it's compassionate and even-handed treatment of the conservative Christian community in America. We are shown a variety of good, decent, compassionate and well meaning conservative Christians who have been shaped by their religious (mis) education about gay people and who are struggling with the contradictions. This is especially true of Hedges Christian pastor father, played by Russell Crowe, a man struggling between his deep and genuine love for his son and his fundamental Christian beliefs. The film makers have wisely avoided the easy cliches and righteous judgmental-ism frequently meted out to this subject. The staff of the treatment center are blind and odious enough, but not so the parents - or the conservative Christian doctor, who tells Lucas she is both Christian believer and scientist, and the scientist in her tells her Lucas is a perfectly normal, healthy young man, his sexual inclinations included. Perhaps influenced by the intentions of the family, this is a film designed to build bridges between the conservative Christian churches and the world view of the social scientists today that 'gayness' is not a choice, nor is it a biological defect or an psychological abnormality. The film attempts to show the way. It's subtlety and nuance, and it's deep understanding of the complexities of this situation (no easy judgments here) places it far above most films we've seen about this subject, including the previous Mis-Education of Cameron Post.

One final comment - and a reference to my previous posting on this film. Boy Erased is in some key respects similar to the hit gay romance of last year,  Call Me by Your Name, which raised the young Timothee Chalamet to stardom and garnered him an Academy Award nomination for best actor. In both films, the powerhouse casts ensured an openness on the part of general audiences and a wide popularity. These are not art-house gay films, but classics that made it into the mainstream and did the gay/lesbian/transsexual community immense good.

Boy Erased, however, went one step further than Call Me By Your Name, because of the candor and honesty of it's young star, Lucas Hedges. Whereas the stars of Call Me By Your Name, Arrnie Hammer and Timothee Chalament, deflected any questions about the own sexuality and what the film process itself might have revealed to them about their own sexual natures, Lucas Hedges came out with a statement announcing himself as "not totally straight," but somewhere on the continuum of human sexuality between bisexual and straight. This is not so remarkable as a scientific observation as it is for breaking a taboo. Psychologists have been telling us for decades that human sexuality is spread out on a continuum, but it is still all too rare in 2019 for a noted Hollywood actor to admit this about himself. Lucas Hedges has 'outed' himself as a perfectly average young heterosexual male, not ashamed to admit his small portion of gayness, and we in the gay community are all the better for it!

Timothee Chalamet
p.s. This reminds me of a comment made by Justin Timberlake on a talk show when asked how he felt about one of his former band mates in NSYNC who came out as gay. When asked if he was shocked by the revelation or found it hard to accept as a straight male performer, Timberlake snapped back, "I'm gay enough!" In other words, don't put my friend in one 'weird' category and me in the other so-called normal one, completely separate from him and his admission. Well done!