Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

When a film wins the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, you know it's going to be good. This film did not disappoint. It's the second film (Apostasy) in a month that I've watched that offers a critique of Christianity - perhaps the fact that these kinds of films can be released in mainstream cinema is an indication of the maturing of a post-Christian world view.

The film begins in an anonymous US community giving it the possibility of universal application. The film is set in 1993. Billed as teen coming-of-age movie, it explores same sex attraction (SSA) through the person of Cameron Post as she seeks to establish her identity as an emerging adult. Hormonal soup courses through the veins of Cameron and her friends as heterosexual and homosexual attractions play out along with drug experimentation which is depicted as part of the gauntlet of initiation into adulthood that youngsters are forced to endure as they try to work out who they are. What interested me was that there was possibly only one scene in which a parent of a SSA teen is shown. Teens who are caught in an SSA encounter can be sent by their parents for rehabilitation at a gay conversion therapy centre run by brother and sister, Reverend Rick himself an example of the success of the programme and Dr Marsh who spouts self-help Christian psychology.

This is an intelligent film that takes teenagers, SSA and Evangelical Christianity seriously. It doesn't hand out judgments but simply says this is how things are. In doing so, for many, the film will in fact make many judgments. For me there were uncomfortable resonances with the kind of Christianity I encountered on finding God back in the 1970s. Sexually impropriety was deemed to be the biggest and almost unforgivable sin. Right doctrine leads to right behaviour - it was so simple, so black and white, with no recognition that we are born into a world of grey. As a teenager we were subjected to repeated teaching on how to avoid falling into sin - sex outside of marriage and 'self pleasure' were outlawed and SSA was so taboo it never even got a mention. Or at least that's how it seemed at the time, but it might just have felt like that because I too was trying to work out who I was.

Anyone who has been part of the kind of Evangelical ghetto portrayed in the film will recognise the characters and the sub-culture which makes a genuine attempt to keep adherents apart from mainstream society to avoid contamination through temptation and falling into sin. Life in the ghetto is afterall much easier as we only mix with our own kind - woe behold anyone who engages in 'sinful behaviour' with a fellow church member! The fact that sexual attraction and especially SSA are such strong forces are simply evidence of a weak or misplaced faith and so we have to pray and try harder to live for God and not self. What the film ends up evidencing is that the teenagers learn the vocabulary and behaviour of growing closer to God and the psychobabble needed to unlock possible privileges and eventual release from the remote community. If anything they are pushed further away from God and loving communities which exist to worship him.

The film raises lots of issues about a range of subjects including self-identity, sexual identity, Church, community and friendship. The acting is first class and Chloe Grace Moretz gives a nuanced and sympathetic performance in the titular role. This has just come out in the cinemas in the UK - do go and see it and then talk about it with friends and ask yourself what is the film saying to me! I'll give it 8/10.


Daniel Mumby said...

Interesting review. Would love to hear more about your view on "post-Christian" society (an issue which concerns me greatly)

Duncan Strathie said...

Thanks Daniel form taking time to comment.

Where to start? As a parish priest in England I am thankful for the vestiges of privilege my role affords me but very keenly aware that all around me are folk who know nothing of Christianity or have been so damaged or disillusioned by the Church that they have wilfully expunged what they knew.

In the city I live in Christianity is fast becoming a non dominant belief partly because of what I said above but also because of the growth of vibrant worshipping communities of other faiths. The goal posts are moving and unless we dedicate energy tracking them, we will less and less understand the context in which we live, move and have our being. Consequently, as Christians, we will increasingly struggle to proclaim the never changing gospel to the ever changing world.

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