You can’t pray the gay away. You can lie to yourself into the delusion that you can, but places that promise a “cure” are selling you snake oil for a disease that doesn’t exist. These places are predatory and hypocritical, outwardly praying for you when they are actually sinisterly preying on you. The Miseducation of Cameron Post perfectly captures the insidious nature of conversion camps through subtlety rather than shock. As a part of the gay community, I have heard more than enough horror stories about these camps and the often psychological and physical warfare tactics that they aggressively employ. This film could easily have been given the horror treatment, but by deciding to take a much more nuanced approach, the film’s message can effortlessly resonate with the viewer. The utter lack of hyperbole grounds the entire film and gives us glimpses of contemporary society despite taking place 25 years ago.
As you’ve likely read in the headlines, camps and institutions like these are regaining a foothold in American society thanks in large part to our current president and his religious administration of sycophants. The strength of The Miseducation of Cameron Post is that it serves as an educational introduction to the topic, but presents it in a simple and palatable way. Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) is your average teenager in every way. There is nothing overly remarkable or noteworthy about her, which makes her middling nature the perfect personification for the average female teenager.
Desiree Akhavan takes the novel of the same name and co-writes a screenplay with Cecilia Frugiuele that fits the quiet, powerful style we have seen Akhavan excel at in Appropriate Behavior. This film is a series of intense, intimate moments that are usually presented in a whisper, but whose nuance and raw emotions scream out without having to raise their voice. We have had many mainstream-targeted LGBTQ+ films come out in the last few years, but the majority of them focus on the gay white male experience. What Akhavan presents is not only a well-rounded view of both sexes but also a much greater attention to detail on the lesbian experience through the lens of female desire.
Through the character of Cameron, we are meant to explore her life and how her exploration of sexuality threatened her religious guardians. The most powerful part of this film is the depiction of the conversion process. There is no sort of physical abuse involved. Each person gets their own bed, get several meals a day, and is allowed a fair amount of freedom when it comes to walking around the area. The film quickly shows us that even though the abuse doesn’t manifest itself in a physical form, it is still causing irreparable damage. Mental and emotional abuse are usually much more permanent than physical abuse and are the weapons of choice for organizations like these.
The dangerous part of these camps, as you will see in the film, is the way they use false logic to convince the susceptible teenagers to deny a part of themselves. The combination of pseudo-psychology and religious dogma makes for a powerful motivator for the demoralized youth. The scary part is that although we know better, the arguments presented by the head of the program, Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) seem rational in a very fictional Freudian way. The film succeeds in showing just how seductive the skewed logic of places like these are, especially when you’re young and receptive to change so that you don’t feel shame both internally and externally.
Chloë Grace Moretz delivers one her best performances since 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria. She has proven to excel in these understated, yet powerful roles and gives a nuanced performance full of passion and respect to the subject matter. Her effortless immersion into the character is what gives the film its emotional impact. Her character is our entry into this story, but Sasha Lane and Forrest Goodluck’s characters are part of what keeps us engaged. Seeing the different stories gives us variety and diversity, all while revealing the insidious thread tying all of them together: Religion. The Miseducation of Cameron Post doesn’t need to speak loud or at length for it to reveal volumes about our society, and how people prioritize the second-hand writings of some ancient text over the well-being and acceptance of their flesh and blood.