The Miseducation of Cameron Post exposes the effect of conversion therapy

by James Robins / 12 September, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Miseducation Cameron Post

Award-winning drama The Miseducation of Cameron Post gives a good taste of what totalitarianism is. 

What does totalitarianism feel like? Hannah Arendt would say crippling isolation and loneliness. Franz Kafka would moan about pointlessness and absurdity. George Orwell would tell you it’s grey concrete nihilism and stark skies, ever-pressing peril and no escape.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, this year’s Sundance grand jury prize winner, which was adapted from the 2012 coming-of-age novel by Emily M Danforth, exhibits all of these dismal qualities. It offers a perfect airless world of stifling oppression, even if it’s set in the golden forests of Montana, circa 1993.

This place is known as God’s Promise, a kind of bucolic Room 101 of wood panelling and thick curtains, where teenage Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) is sent after being discovered making love to her girlfriend in the back of a car.

From the moment Cameron arrives, you want to leap on your seat and holler at her to run in the opposite direction to whatever God’s offering. She’s named a “disciple”, dons a faded blue uniform, and is told that she must earn the right to receive mail or decorate her walls. There will be a “recovery”. She will “get better”. It’s never stated so colloquially, but she’s there to “pray away the gay”.

Looming over it all is Dr Lydia March (Jennifer Ehle), self-proclaimed therapist for “conversion” and the worst kind of tyrant: one who smiles.

Even more startling is that director Desiree Akhavan conjures this anxious and claustrophobic feeling with the style of a woozy summer camp indie drama. There’s humour present: folksy Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) confiscates a Breeders album, quipping “they’re not singing in praise of the Lord, are they?” And rebellion, too, when Cameron bands together with two other “disciples” (Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck).

But as warm and likeable as Moretz’s Cameron is, her character remains just a vessel through which we experience an unceasing discomfort. What we’re witnessing, what Akhavan so effectively conveys through the pastoral soft lighting, is the attempted destruction of human nature – a kind of obliteration by Bible study. I can’t imagine anything more totalitarian than that, or a film that portrays it as perfectly.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★1/2

Video: FilmRise Releasing

This article was first published in the September 15, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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