Directed by Desiree Akhavan and adapted by herself and Cecilia Frugiuele – The Miseducation of Cameron Post is for everyone who believes in living their truth. This is made possible through a network of symbiotic partnerships between the cast and crew, including director of photography Ashley Connor and editor Sara Shaw.
Based on the book by Emily Danforth, this film is set in the 1990’s. Cameron, a teenage track runner and bible study attendee, is sent away to same-sex conversion camp for getting hot and heavy in the backseat of a car with her best friend Coley (Quinn Shephard).
Cameron’s flashbacks of the events leading to her arrival at camp are not only sexual, but exceedingly relatable to nostalgic first times in high school. There is nothing salacious about Cameron making the first move on Coley, as it’s rather brave on her behalf. You get the notion that Cameron is a very self-aware individual and that deep down, she knows her attraction to women is real – But through illogical treatment methods at camp, she finds herself wondering if changing is a better way to live.
Cameron wants to believe she can change, and finds some assistance from roommate Erin (Emily Skeggs), an anal retentive ex-tom boy, Mark (Owen Campbell), a boy dissecting his attraction to men through his faith, and Helen (Melanie Ehrlich), the choir singer wanting be reinstated into her group… to always keep close to god of course.
When Cameron may believe too heavily in the camp’s cause, Jane (Sasha Lane) the free-spirited ex-hippie and Adam (Forrest Goodluck) the native american whose families new religious beliefs means giving up his own sexual spirituality – Bring her back down to her desired reality. Cameron, Jane, and Adam allow acceptance in the form of teenage normalcy, smoking ditch weed whilst being too high for arts and crafts.
There are only a handful of adults in this film. Some including the Cruella de Vil-like psychologist Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle), her turned- straight brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr.) and his companion (Marin Ireland) who plays as his beard (beard – using a person to dispel rumors of homo-orientation).
We essentially only see them when the teenagers do. We hear their backstories and their weaknesses mostly through one another, which helps encompass the environment through their eyes only. This approach works because the adults aren’t monster’s, but they aren’t genuine human beings either. Their blatant refusal to understand the young adolescents is so ruthless, there’s no need to be invested in their backstories. We simply know that they are devout believers in the extremist ideas which got them to lead this prison *cough* camp… in the first place.
For instance, Lydia Marsh used a metaphor that made the audience in my screening laugh oddly in discomfort because of its sheer insanity. Why’s that? Lets just say it correlated same sex with cannibalism. She explains to Cameron and the others that they are not sexually attracted to the same sex, but rather that they want to actually be the other person – So their logical approach is to literally be inside of them. The antics of making these young adolescents feel disgusted and sinful causes an emotional roller-coaster of right vs wrong and good vs. evil.
When the (no pun intended) climax occurs, and a vicious act of self-harm done by Mark makes everyone uneasy and emotionally drained – The egg shells he lovingly tried so hard to walk on break under his bare feet. His own father refuses to allow his return home. As what then follows is a memorized passage from the bible. Tears arise in my eyes even now, for how important and heart-breaking this scene and the next become to the story.
Not knowing who Owen Campbell was before this film, if this scene of him reciting a biblical text with such conviction and theatrics is not viewed as being one of the most powerful performances by a supporting character, then I don’t know what is. We see a bright young man with so much faith in the program turn into a hurt child arguing that from weakness comes strength. Making many of the teens ask themselves – How much can one person endure before they break?
Poet Theodore Roethke has a line from In a Dark Time that states, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” This traumatizing event allows the teenagers to wipe the filmy substance obscuring their view. So when Cameron is asked by officials investigating the camp, whether this mind-fuck of a facility has ever been abusive towards her – She comes to a pivotal understanding. She explains she doesn’t feel protected by any of them, but the man specifies he’s inquiring about physical abuse which only ignites her eternal flame.
For why is emotional abuse justified if consented by young minds that have yet to reach emotional and sexual cognizance? Why is Cameron expected to respect and entrust her livelihood to adults who see her lesbianism as an S.T.D? Curable by being force fed religion and immense ridicule.
Cameron’s realization of the adults not knowing jack shit about what they claim to be best at is a rousing and crucial moment. The result being Cameron, Jane and Adam packing their bags prior to breakfast with a seemingly oblivious Reverend Rick. When excusing themselves to go “hiking” he either has chosen not to stop them, or is really that deep into the world he’s created.
For whatever the reasons, they do escape, and as they sit in the back of a pickup truck… leaving their version of Dante’s Inferno behind – We know this is a happy ending. Even if adulthood is on the cusp, met with evident homelessness and tribulations – They will still have each other. Turning out to be the best education they could ever get on becoming themselves.
By Amanda Nove