“I’m not being a good friend if I ignore your sin.”
Written and directed by Desiree Akhavan, The Miseducation of Cameron Post takes place in the early 90s and follows the titular character (Chloe Grace Moretz) after she is sent to a remote treatment center for those dealing with same-sex attraction. Entitled God’s Promise, the center is run by the strict Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother, Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) who seek to ‘help’ the teens be free from their ‘immoral thoughts’. While she is being subjected to questionable gay conversion therapies, Cameron bonds with her fellow residents as they pretend to go along with the process while waiting to be released.
Based on the book of the same name by Emily M. Danforth, Miseducation’s strongest asset is its cast, especially Moretz, who continues to prove herself as one of Hollywood’s strongest young talents. With much of the film riding on her shoulders—she’s central in almost every scene—Moretz plays Cameron with a mix of confidence and confusion as she seeks to navigate her new surroundings. Strong supporting performances from her peer group of Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) bring stability to the film by providing Cameron the home and security that she so desperately lacks.
The most terrifying aspect of Miseducation is how ordinary it feels. Although Dr. Marsh is portrayed as incredibly severe (even refusing to refer to Cameron as ‘Cam’ for fear it might cause more gender confusion), God’s Promise does not appear to be a house of horrors on the surface. The facilities are well kept and the residents have freedom to hike outdoors. Reverend Rick proves himself to be earnest and appears to genuinely care about the teens in his care. However, with each ‘counselling session’, the audience becomes increasingly aware of the emotional abuse that is taking place by attempting to convince the children of their sinfulness and need to change their lives. (As they are told repeatedly, “what lies under their iceberg” determines how they think.) In other words, at God’s Promise, righteousness is the fuel of wrath and grace is offered only through condescension. It’s a scathing—but frequently true—review of the church’s history of attempting to separate ‘the sinner and the sin’, a practice that ends up stealing a piece of their soul in the process. (Incidentally, as a pastor, I can’t help but be broken by the ignorance and arrogance inherent to this sort of spiritual abuse.)
In Miseducation, love is conditional. Whether it’s the love of God or from their families, these characters have felt the harsh reality of unacceptance and have only experience grace as the carrot on a stick. Somewhat ironically, genuine community is only felt when their brokenness becomes what also draws them together. Fear and oppression becomes shared pain and opens the door for healing. When abandoned by the church, the residents of God’s Promise need to look to one another to find hope.
And the harshest reality is that it isn’t entirely fictional.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is in theaters now.