Depicting pure evil in cinema is easy, you just pump a character full of despicable thoughts and acts without much depth as to their motivation or background, and voila! What takes work, patience, and strength is to write the kind of evil that comes from an intrinsically human place, depicted with unforeseen empathy towards the perpetrators. Understanding the other side makes us understand what we're dealing with, and in turn further humanizes the opposition. This makes evil even more terrifying, potent, and immediate, since it no longer comes from a comic book ideal of make-believe, but from a flesh and blood human reality. Desiree Akhavan, co-writer and director of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, an intimately heartbreaking drama about the many horrors of gay conversion therapy, is able to imbue her film with empathy towards those who are actively destroying the lives of innocent LGBTQ youth.
Some of the people who run the camp that's supposed to turn gay kids straight, like Jennifer Ehle's Dr. Lydia Marsh, emotionally torture the kids because they get a perverse satisfaction from being in complete control of other human beings. There are those like John Gallagher Jr's Rick, an "ex-gay" reverend, who thinks of turning straight as the only path to happiness, and seems to genuinely care about the well-being of his students, i.e. prisoners. Chloe Grace Moretz plays the title character, who gets caught in a lesbian affair and is sent to this conversion camp. Her evangelical step-mother sends her there not as punishment, but because she's genuinely worried that Cameron will never form a family if she remains gay. Akhavan never loses control of her even-handed tone, even when this toxic behavior sanctioned by so-called religious dogma results in a horrific climax. The fact that it happens at the hand of those who are certain they're doing the right thing for their god is what makes their actions all the more infuriating.
Akhavan steers clear of dramatic grandstanding or having Cameron break character in order to get on her soapbox and tell off those who are hurting her. Moretz plays her not as a token for some kind of liberal martyr complex, but as a confused teenager who understands her own nature, and cannot see why others insists that it's immoral and therefore she should hate herself. The other LGBTQ teens who surround him range from those who already know the instructors are full of crap and are just playing along, to those who genuinely wish and pray to strip the gay away, even though they're fully aware of the impossibility of such a wish.
This variety of characters creates a narrative where we can see the issue from every angle, while the wit and charm of the script makes the experience more than just a TED talk delivered via a group of actors settling into archetypes. The ending, what Cameron and her rebellious friends ultimately decide to do with the place, might not be satisfactory for those looking for some artificial closure and punishment for those who tortured these characters, but is nevertheless a refreshingly honest and bittersweet representation of how those rejected by their families for their sexuality end up.
Most of the film takes place in the gay conversion camp, which is surrounded by bright greenery and natural colors, directly contrasting the teen characters being asked to go against their own nature. The 1080p transfer makes those colors pop and shows great contrast and detail.
Apparently this is a bit of an ongoing issue with FilmRise releases, but the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks on offer here are both lossy Dolby Digital transfers. This is a very dialogue-heavy drama with an understated sound design, but it's a bit baffling to not get a Blu-ray with lossless audio these days. The 5.1 track offers a bit of ambient sound, but you should be fine with the 2.0 track through TV speakers.
Commentary by Desiree Akhavan: Akhavan is very informative and encompassing about the film's production and themes.
We also get a Behind-the-scenes Photo Gallery and a Trailer.
Even though we like to pat ourselves on the back about how far we've come with LGBTQ rights in the USA, there are still those who wish tremendous harm to that community in the name of their religious beliefs. This story takes place in the early ‘90s, but gay conversion therapy is still very prevalent. With such an engaging and well-acted drama, The Miseducation of Cameron Post ends up being an important piece of the discussion.