(Trigger warning for themes of abuse and self-harm, and spoiler warning for the ending.)
Based off the book of the same name, ‘The Miseducation of Cameron Post’ (2018) follows teenager Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) after she is caught being intimate with another girl and then sent away to a gay conversion camp.
One of the first elements the film has spot-on is the feeling of tension. From Cameron getting walked in on with love her interest Coley, (Quinn Shepard) to her interactions with authority figures at God’s Promise having an underlining tone of hostility, even when they’re being personable on a surface level. We can even feel this tension through the others forced to stay at the camp. While they’re a lot less intimidating then the adults in control and are in the same position of vulnerability as our main character, there’s a sense that they’re so brainwashed and repressed they don’t hesitate to tattletale. Outside the characters of Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (Forrest Goodluck) who are the only ones to truly befriend Cameron, the rest have an unnerving feel to them as if they can switch at any moment if they suspect “immorality”. From this scenario, it's as if Cameron is constantly being spied on and could have the whistle blown on her any time. The atmosphere truly feels cult like.
There is, however, a great sense of pain behind the other teenagers and even Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.), one of the leaders at the camp who was also gay before being “saved”. They are in a toxic environment where they’re constantly enforced that their sexuality is an evil sickness (at one point the head of the camp goes so far to relate it to a drug addiction), so given their situation it seems they adapt to the “therapy” and fall in line to lessen their abuse. No matter how jarring/unpleasant any of them act, it stems from that foundation of dread. With this in mind it’s hard to blame them, and even Reverend Rick, for perpetuating toxicity onto new members, or “disciples” as they call them. God’s Promise is upheld by manipulation and intimidation, as its leader Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) plays mind games with the teens and whiplashes between the appearance of kind and caring to cold and antagonistic. The first concrete moment we can observe this is when she first meets Cameron. Initially warm and friendly, she tells the girl, “Please don’t hesitate to ask if you need anything...you should consider yourself amongst family, Cameron”. In response to this she requests Dr. Marsh to just call her “Cam”, prompting Marsh to answer: “Cameron is already a masculine name, to abbreviate it as something even less feminine only exacerbates your gender confusion”, completely contradicting the insistence that Cameron should be comfortable and feel amongst “family”. Disciples even have to earn the most basic of concessions, such as personalizing their spaces and access to mail they’ve been sent, which gets read by the staff before it even gets to them.
The entire dynamic is that of power and control, and it’s weaponized against the teens if they’re deemed doing some thing unfavorable. While we don’t see the adults get physical with the disciples (besides Dr. Marsh at one point shaving Adams head for not getting his hair out of his eyes as she asked) all of the abuse that happens is mental and it’s just as valid as if they were getting beaten. The film itself directly confirms this at one point. After another teen, Mark (Owen Campbell), receives a letter from his father denying him to return home for still being too “effeminate”, he has a mental breakdown and later on inflicts himself with gashes on his genitals so severe he has to be hospitalized. Of course, a large part of his breaking point was his father’s hurtful letter, but his noxious environment most definitely contributed to his suffering mental health. Adam is the one who discovers him, and in the morning the adults explain to the disciples that an incident happened, although they remain vague on specifics. In private, Reverend Rick discloses the gritty details to Cameron after she pushes him to tell her. Shocked and upset she questions why Mark wasn’t kept a closer eye on if the staff suspected he was in a degenerating head space. Rick becomes speechless and begins to sob. Besides the guilt he must feel from having a minor in his care harm himself, on a deeper level perhaps he knows the system he’s so dutifully bought into is the actual evil, not the queerness within the teens, or himself. Because of the apparent neglect an investigation is launched, and Cameron speaks with an agent. He questions her if her physical needs are being taken care of, such as going outside or feeling threatened by the staff or the other teens. Finally, he asks if she trusts those in authority at God‘s Promise. She answers “Not really, ” elaborating that she trusts them to take care of her physical well-being but nothing outside of that. The investigator says he’s there to check on if the teens are being neglected or physically abused prompting Cameron to question him, “Yeah, but what about emotional abuse...how is programming people to hate themselves not emotional abuse?” The investigator says he will “make a note” of what she said, although there is no indication of urgency or real concern from him. Sadly this mirrors the attitude many have for abuse victims in reality. The thought that only physical harm and neglect are pressing enough to stop, while emotional abuse is sad, but not that big of a deal. In actuality all abuse is important enough to interfere with in order to cease suffering. Knowing that they are unlikely to receive aid, Cameron, Jane, and Adam take it upon themselves to put an end to their mistreatment and abandon God‘s Promise, and that’s where the narrative leaves us.
The miseducation of Cameron Post receives an Incluvie score of 5/5! Besides the entire plot revolving around the abuse that happens in gay conversion camps, people of color also had a presence in the film. One of the main leads, Adam, is Native American and gives a unique take on queerness through the lens of his traditional culture. He explains to Cameron and Jane that he is what Lakotans know as a winkte, a two-spirit. He says it means he was “born with a man’s soul and a woman's soul”. This was incredibly fascinating to learn about as I hadn't seen a Native American take on the gay spectrum ever touched upon in media, let alone knew of the concept in our reality.
The miseducation of Cameron posts receives an overall score of 4/5. While it builds appropriate tension, at times it tends to meander a little and feel somewhat drawn out, and occasionally the acting is off.