by actor/writer/director Joel Edgerton
I sometimes wonder if I will ever be able to articulate why Garrard Conley’s memoir put its hooks into me.
I know why I read Boy Erased so quickly when told about it. As a child, one of my greatest fears was being taken away from my parents. As a young boy, I would have nightmares about institutions and abductions; prisons, military, being sent away or locked up. It makes sense looking back and no doubt this is a common fear for children: separation. These fears were fueled by or amplified by watching violent stories at too young of an age. Later, I was fascinated by films that reflected these fears; stories of prisons and walled-in places: Escape from Alcatraz, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Midnight Express. Some hopeful and some not.
Garrard’s book promised a glimpse into another type of prison I had heard tales of: gay conversion therapy. I guess you could say I went into the book with a morbid curiosity. When I put Garrard’s book down, I realized that his story doubled down on my old childhood terrors in a way I had never considered. I was immediately emotionally involved and invested. His memoir, as personal as it was, had the potential to speak to thousands of people and connect with families everywhere.
What if you were sent away from your parents... by your parents? My parents had always been my everything. My source of knowledge and guides in life, and most certainly my protectors. I could only imagine that, like Garrard, I could have been considered sinful enough to be in need of reform. That would be a deeply wounding and confusing experience. The sad irony for Garrard was that the choice to send him to conversion therapy was done in the belief that they were helping him; that it was a positive fix. That it was possible. That love was part of the decision.
I thought about Garrard and his story daily, imagining how it could become a movie. Without knowing whether I would be creatively involved I wanted to meet Garrard, meet other survivors and, as the weeks went on, my connection to the story became somewhat obsessive.
I've always chosen projects or chased projects in which I wanted to be included. This was a case of a story choosing me, energizing me. I know a large part of that reason is because essentially Garrard’s story is about love and acceptance.
One of my lessons through my own writing is what often interests me is human beings and the mistakes they make. That it’s not what we do so much that matters (we all make mistakes), it’s what we do next that really counts. Recorrecting or acknowledging our failures is a true sign of strong character. In this film, Garrard’s parents represent that to me. Both in their own—they’ve made a turnaround in their initial beliefs (that he was broken and needed fixing). This hopefulness within their choices was, alone, worth making the movie. I believe their flaws and strengths can be a good guide. And the beating heart of Garrard, his bravery and strength, are certainly worth sharing on screen.
This film was populated both in front of and behind the camera with people who felt inspired like I did: to render the film with the same remarkable empathy that Garrard has. He chose, despite that trauma he experienced, to not demonize his therapists nor his parents... and certainly not religion. He knows that everybody was acting out of love bolstered by their beliefs, based on information they had.
Garrard dedicates the memoir to his parents.
This film in many ways is for all parents. In the hope that they remain protectors and keep us safe.