“How is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?”
Desiree Akhavan‘s The Miseducation Of Cameron Post, a story of a teenage girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) sent to a Christian gay conversion therapy centre in the US, and adapted from Emily M. Danforth‘s 2012 novel, is a film that eluded me for a while. I wanted to see it almost a year ago, festival fresh, at Sundance London, and somehow managed to miss it, then found it on demand, but it remained in my watchlist for far too long. When it finally landed on HBO Go, it was the right kind of night for what I flimsily thought was a coming-out-coming-of-age tale, so I dived in, and got so much more than I bargained for. Films find us, when we are ready.
For one thing, it manages to nail the intricacies of emotional abuse in such terrible detail, while muted by pastel colours of Akhavan’s narrative zaniness, that all the twisted soul demolitions of the young hearts being forced to ‘pray the gay away’ suddenly creep up on us – spinning into one heavy gasp of rage against the machine in the dark crescendo.
What makes it an astounding achievement is that this is exactly how emotional abuse works – wrapped as justified concern or criticism, endless humiliations are taken in one’s stride, often brushed off with a laugh, until they grind a soul down. Flat on the ground. This is where the wings are cut, and the wounds explode. In takes one split chrome steel second.
Then there is the abuse of power. The psychologising of what is essentially mental torture. No, you are not a homosexual, you are a cannibal. Your body’s wants are pure mimesis. You want to absorb not fuck what you desire. Love taken as an aberration.
“You people have no idea what you’re doing, do you? You’re just making it up as you go along,” Cameron says to one of their guardians, the gay brother who ‘turned straight’.
There is a special place if hell for people who pathologise difference, labeling (and often driving) otherness insane in order to disown their own inner disturbance. The sibling couple running God’s Promise camp would be confused, terrified souls when left to look inward. Particularly the sister, the more authoritarian of the two. In a way, they are just extreme versions of any rigid pillars of society, fundamentalist Christian or otherwise, calcifying norms that are, in essence, arbitrary pacifiers for existential anxieties.
Something about the power of Nature inspires pure terror in the human mind, as it does not wield to it on demand. Or at least, not without consequences.
There will always be a wild one whose freedom to be threatens our lack of it. Or a wild part of us, the one that propels us to transform, as it is unbearable to be left caged.
I think this is a story about wings. And learning what your particular set of feathers are. Then how to protect them.
Also – 4 Non Blondes What’s Up kitchen table dancing scene – thank you Desiree.