So-called “gay conversion therapy” is child abuse, plain and simple, perpetrated by adults who knowingly manipulate the fears and insecurities of young victims in order to make them hate themselves and their inborn nature. The Miseducation of Cameron Post examines a camp, God’s Promise, from the point of view of a teen (Chloë Grace Moretz) who was forced to attend in 1993 after she was caught with her best female friend by her boyfriend. The camp is dedicated to eliminating same-sex attraction by a combination of pseudo-psychotherapy, scripture, and gaslighting masquerading as positive reinforcement. So-called gender confusion, girls playing sports, and boys forming closer relationships with their mothers than their fathers, are all to blame for the teens’ conditions, though they are certainly not actually homosexual. “Sin is sin,” says the camp director, Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle). “Would you have a parade for drug addicts?”
The premise may seem familiar—attempts by religious institutions to erase supposed deviation has been frequently satirized, in this case most similarly by But I’m A Cheerleader. What sets director Desiree Akhavan’s vision for The Miseducation of Cameron Post apart is its focus on just how deep a tragedy this belief is, that one can “pray the gay away.” The absurdity of the delusion is presented as slightly comical at first, but as the layers of trauma and self-hatred are peeled back, it becomes heartbreaking to watch someone knowingly lie to themselves and to others in order to give the appearance of being a happy, stable Christian. Otherwise typical teenage insecurities about appearance and living up to parental expectation become something else entirely when your basic right to exist as you are is under assault. One scene in particular—details withheld to avoid spoilers—shows a camper, one of the most vocally devoted to becoming ex-gay, giving in to a temptation she’s long felt. Immediately after, her words make it clear that she knows deep down she will always be attracted to women, but that the indoctrination took root in the most negative, self-hating corner of her mind—one which many of us have—and has been ruthlessly exploited.
Moretz is excellent in the title role, bringing more to the Cameron character than just being an observer. She knows there is nothing wrong with her. She has the same insecurities and fears as any teen and doesn’t yet have the vocabulary or life experience to directly combat ideas that are clearly reprehensible, but are presented with a kind face. John Gallagher, Jr. (Reverend Rick) turns in a fascinating performance as proof positive that leaving same-sex attraction behind is not only possible but desirable, with a quiet loneliness behind his eyes.
The setting of the early 1990s means that the world is on the verge of limitless connectivity, but online communities do not yet exist for kids to escape their feelings of isolation. They cannot discover that there are people just like them everywhere, they can only react to what they experience.
The story can be uneven as it finds its footing and meanders too much at times. But once it begins exploring its more unique ideas, The Miseducation of Cameron Post shows intelligence and empathy on a subject that could have very easily been ridiculed or dismissed.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
R, 91 minutes; Violet Crown Cinema
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
Alpha, BlacKklansman, Crazy Rich Asians, The Happytime Murders, The Meg, Mile 22, Mission Impossible: Fallout
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
2001: A Space Odyssey, Alpha, A.X.L., Beautifully Broken, BlackKkKlansman, Christopher Robin, Crazy Rich Asians, The Equalizer 2, The Happytime Murders, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, The Meg, Mile 22, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Operation Finale, Slender Man, The Spy Who Dumped Me
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
BlacKkKlansman, Christopher Robin, Crazy Rich Asians, Eighth Grade, The Happytime Murders, The Meg, Mile 22, Mission Impossible: Fallout, Papillon, Sorry to Bother You, Support the Girls, Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?