At the Toronto International Film Festival 2018

‘Boy Erased’ is a painful journey to self-realisation, acceptance

A still from the movie Boy Erased.

A still from the movie Boy Erased.   | Photo Credit: Focus Features

While Beautiful Boy explores a father and son’s struggle with the latter’s drug addiction, The Hate U Give is about a youth’s struggle in the face of injustice

Actor Joel Edgerton made his directorial debut with the psychological horror film The Gift in 2015. He zooms in on horror of the real kind in his second feature Boy Erased, that had its international premiere at TIFF 2018. Edgerton focuses on how a middle class Arkansas boy (Lucas Hedges) with a loving mother (Nicole Kidman) and a Baptist pastor father (Russell Crowe) is made to undergo a conversion programme, along with other young men and women, with the assumption that homosexuality is a curable illness they are suffering from; that they need to be healed from. But does this church-supported therapy make them cope with and belong better in the insensitive world? Or does it lead to more painful identity conflicts and gender stereotyping? And, most importantly, who is in real need of conversion here afterall? Boy Erased reveals the societal prejudices in all their surreal, bizarre horror. Edgerton as the secretive and evasive head of the programme and Crowe as the tight-lipped father are superb as the upholders of conservative values. Kidman does a bravura turn as the eventually supportive mother, but the film is Hedges’ journey all the way — to self-realisation, acceptance, reconciliation and self-assurance. Also starring Canadian actor-writer-filmmaker, and gay icon Xavier Dolan, in a supporting turn.

If Boy Erased is about father-son conflict, Beautiful Boy (based on the memoirs of David and Nic Sheff) casts an eye on a father and son coping together with the latter’s drug addiction. Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen’s first English feature, that had its world premiere at TIFF, is a harrowing ride through painful cycles of recovery and relapse, hope and hopelessness. Instead of letting the audience be distant observers, it makes them participate in and experience first hand the tragic lives of the protagonists. Timothee Chalamet is the pivot of the film as the once beautiful boy in the grips of meth — fighting hard yet giving in to it. But it’s Steve Carrell who is heartbreaking as the struggling father — always ready to help yet aware that he just cannot beyond a point. Particularly moving is his acceptance and assertion of the fact that however much we might love someone, we ultimately can’t be keepers of their destiny.

Where one belongs

Film festivals are often all about coming a full circle with films — from Beautiful Boy’s volitional dissipation of a young life to George Tillman Jr’s The Hate U Give in which the youth find a bigger cause and direction in life, in the face of injustice and tragedy. Starr (Amandla Stenberg) bumps into her childhood sweetheart at the neighbourhood party and a car ride back home with him ends in a pointless and uncalled for tragedy. It turns her world upside down, makes her face issues of race relations in ways she hadn’t earlier and widens the chasm between the two lives she leads — in the working class neighbourhood where she resides with her family and the rich, privileged school that she attends; between being told that “being black is an honour” to trying to belong with her white friends, that often makes her mother worry if her kids are being exposed to “too much diversity”.

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 12:22:33 PM |

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