R15: Rape, cruelty, offensive language and suicide references
This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.
Boy Erased is a 2018 American biographical drama film based on a 2016 memoir of the same name. It follows Jared Eamons, the son of Baptist preacher Marshall Eamons and his wife Nancy, a homemaker. After Jared reveals to his parents that he has had romantic and sexual thoughts about men, he is made to attend gay conversion therapy assessment program, “Love in Action”. The manipulative chief therapist, Victor Sykes, tells the group that their sexuality is a choice, which is the result of inadequate and deviant family groups, and instructs them to perform harsh ‘moral inventories’ of themselves and their families. In flashbacks, the film shows the events that led to Jared telling his parents about his homosexuality.
Date registered: 30/01/2019
The conversion therapy programme is clearly cruel – its entire premise is that homosexuality is a sin but that gay people can (and should) be changed. Attendees are told that their families are broken and deviant, and asked to detail the ways in which various family members are sinful. They are made to tell the group about their sexual ‘sins’ in embarrassing detail, and to ask for forgiveness. Some know how to play along and fake repentance in order to get out of therapy, while those more naïve carry a high sense of shame.
The attendees are physically scrutinised in a dehumanising fashion, such as being told to think about the shapes that their bodies are making and being ranked from most masculine to least masculine. In one exercise, Sykes forces the attendees to admit their anger at their fathers, as if that is a root cause of their homosexuality. When Jared refuses and says that he doesn’t hate his father, Sykes tries to shame and bully him into doing so.
One of the attendees, Cameron, is forced to attend a fake funeral as a disciplinary measure after he fails an exercise. The leaders proclaim that Cameron has fallen prey to Satan’s wishes. He is dragged to the front of the room, near the coffin, and beaten with bibles by both the conversion therapists and his own family. Later, he is submitted to a forced baptism of sorts, forced under water in a bathtub while other attendees watch. These scenes are shown in slow motion, and muffled and highly reverberated sound effects heighten the dramatic and cruel acts in the scene.
There is a reasonably lengthy rape scene. Henry, Jared’s new best friend at college, places his hand over Jared’s genitals (through the blanket), before moving underneath the blanket with Jared. The two embrace. Henry suddenly climbs on top of Jared and holds Jared’s mouth shut. Jared asks him to stop, but he pays no attention. Jared struggles and begins to scream, but his screams are muffled by Henry’s hand. The scene lasts for an extended period before someone in another room knocks loudly on the wall, and Henry moves off Jared. This scene is quite impactful and disturbing.
Jared is upset by the incident but does not tell anyone that he was raped by Henry. Soon, Henry calls Jared’s parents, posing as a counsellor and Jared is essentially ‘outed’ to his family. He admits that Henry raped a boy at his church but does not tell his parents about his own attack.
Some time after Jared leaves Love in Action, he is told by his mother that some policemen are at the door and want to ask him questions about Cameron. It is revealed that Cameron had killed himself. The suicide method is not mentioned.
We invited two members of our Youth Advisory Panel (both 17) to attend the screening and help us classify the film. They felt that the film had a broad appeal and were likely to recommend the film to their friends. One mentioned that the film could come across as potentially offensive to those with deeply held religious beliefs. They were concerned about the rape scene and the level of cruelty that Jared and the other attendees were subjected to during conversion therapy.
They noted that most young people were unlikely to be openly queer in high school, and that people would generally be over the age of 16 before they would start confiding their sexuality to their closest friends. However, they noted that consent and sexual education was largely taught by Year 10.
They both felt that R15 was an appropriate classification for the film, although one said that R16 would be all right as well. They felt that there was a different perspective and level of maturity between 14- and 15-year-olds to properly contextualise the classifiable elements of the film, and that young people were unlikely to watch the film with their parents and guardians.
Boy Erased is a contemplative, slow-paced and emotionally driven film with a social message around conversation therapy for queer people. It contains a long and candid scene of rape that is likely to shock and disturb young people, especially given the backdrop of cruelty upon which the film is set. The use of homophobic slurs is also likely to shock and disturb younger audiences.
Despite these elements, the film has a large amount of merit. It empathetically represents queer young people and their experiences on screen, and is likely to resonate with older teenage audiences who might be navigating their own sexualities. It highlights the harms that come from the medically unsupported practice of gay conversion therapy. It also touches on the pernicious way that rape is minimised and left unreported when victims do not have a strong support network and are not believed. The film’s slow pace and lack of action suggests that it is intended to be viewed by older teenagers and adults, who are likely to have the experience and maturity to contextualise the more disturbing elements of the film within the context of queer representation and advocacy on screen.
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