‘Boy Erased’ and ‘The Children Act’
A review by John Carr
Among the steady supply of good movies that have been showing in recent weeks, two have particular relevance for SoFiA film buffs. They are ‘Boy Erased’ and ‘The Children Act’. Both have very good scripts and direction, as well as outstanding performances by the actors in the central and peripheral roles.
‘Boy Erased’ is based on a 2016 memoir of the same name by American, Garrard Conley. Set in the Mid-West Bible Belt, it involves a devout Baptist couple (Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman) and their gay teenage son (Lucas Hedges). The father and Church Elders arrange for the boy to go to ‘Love in Action’, a Church-run gay-conversion therapy facility, controlled by a self-styled psychologist (Joel Edgerton, also the Director of the film). The theoretical basis for the treatment claimed by the staff is that homosexuality is a choice made by boys in response to bad parenting. The film follows the boy’s progress, or lack of it, as he undergoes torrid confrontational sessions involving forced criticism of himself and his parents. He sees another boy ‘sentenced’ to fairly severe physical abuse. Eventually, he flees the institution with the help of his mother and, in a postscript, we are able to see the productive life he later leads as a gay man. He tries to reconcile with his father, who remains unable to completely accept his son’s identity.
‘The Children Act’ is a British film based on an Ian McEwan novel. It, too, focuses on a middle-aged couple and a teenage boy, though he is not their son. The central character is the wife, an eminent British High Court Judge (Emma Thompson), who is so consumed by the demands of her high-profile cases that she has no time to maintain her relationship with her husband (Stanley Tucci) with any intimacy or warmth. Against this background, she is given a case that is typical of those for which she is famed – a 17 year-old Jehovah’s Witness (Fionn Whitehead) is dying of leukemia but refuses to have a life-saving blood transfusion. She has only a couple of days to determine whether the State should step in, as British Law allows. Because of her own personal circumstances and emotional state, the viewer assumes, she takes the extraordinary step of visiting the boy in hospital in order to understand his position first hand. She makes her judgement, but the case has a series of unexpected, quite dramatic consequences that have a major impact on both the boy and the couple.
The parallels of plot and theme between the two films are obvious, both involving a clash between religious rights and children’s rights. Over the years, SoFiA has paid attention to several such ethical dilemmas; it has also explored matters of gender and health. However, I’m not sure that the broader ethical issue – conflict between parents’ and children’s rights – has yet been explicitly addressed.
The current version of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child was passed only in 1989, though most countries had begun to take account of children’s needs and rights long before that. In summary, it says:
Children’s rights includes their right to association with both parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for physical protection, food, universal state-paid education, health care, and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, equal protection of the child’s civil rights, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of the child’s race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, color, ethnicity, or other characteristics. 1.
SoFiA Groups and members might like to consider under what circumstances these rights might properly be overruled by the parental right to guide and make decisions on behalf of their children. A number of such ethical dilemmas have recently played out in Australia involving:
- Medical treatment (like the case in ‘The Children Act’)
- Arranged and/or enforced childhood marriage
- Removal overseas by one parent
- Genital mutilation
- Forced attendance at a particular sect’s Religious Instruction
- Parental neglect or abuse
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children%27s_rights (Retrieved 3/12/2018)