Produced and distributed by Focus Features
Written and directed by Joel Edgerton
from a memoir by Garrard Conley
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Produced by Beachside Films
Written and directed by Desiree Akhavan
from a novel by Emily Danforth
Distributed by FilmRise
Produced and distributed by Netflix
Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins
Homosexuals make up two-to-four percent of the population, yet many assume their number is higher, much higher: 23 percent, according to a 2015 Gallup poll.
It’s easy to understand why. Homosexual activists and their sympathizers have been tireless in trumpeting their cause. What’s more, they do so very loudly while shutting down anyone who demurs from their agenda. Their noise is such that people assume their numbers must be legion. Dare suggest the gay lifestyle isn’t so happily numerous, and you’re instantly labeled a homophobe.
Not long ago, homophobia, as it’s called, encouraged jokes at the expense of homosexuals. It was so common that few remarked on it. Some of my gay friends were past masters at ridiculing their own inclinations and did so with far sharper, infinitely more inventive language than your run-of-the-mill homophobe.
That was yesterday. Today, laughing at same-sex proclivities can get you brought up on charges. I suppose this is an improvement over the bad old days when mocking faggotry was in style. This practice was unkind and, worse, witless. If homosexuality is innate, as recent research suggests, then what right do heterosexuals have to deride people who manifest its characteristics? On the other hand, are heterosexuals obliged to approve homosexual practices? Not very long ago, these activities were considered perversions, that is, etymologically speaking, a turning away from the natural. Today, we almost never hear the word pervert, largely because the meaning of natural has become so embattled. Use it in the wrong precinct, and some bien-pensant will sharply demand you explain yourself.
Of course, there’s a reason homosexuals were once the butt of tasteless jokes. Most societies throughout history have discouraged homosexual practices. Why? Homosexuality frustrates the cause of procreation and, thus, the future of our species. It’s no surprise that people in all ages were by and large not eager to approve homosexual relations.
And so we come to Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, two films that encourage the belief that sexual activity is not primarily or even secondarily about begetting the next generation. Instead, sex is first and foremost about satisfying urges, whether they’re heterosexual, homosexual, or any one of the other various sexual longings that crop up now and then. Based on Garrard Conley’s memoir, Boy Erased explores the confusion visited upon Jared Eamons (Lucas Hedges, playing a character who represents Conley) by growing up with same-sex attraction. He has a high-school girlfriend who clearly invites his affection, but he’s unable to respond to her. Even kissing after their prom is a problem. When he goes to college, his roommate more or less rapes him and then follows up by calling Jared’s parents and pretending to be a school counselor, alerting them that their son is homosexual. Jared’s father (Russell Crowe), a Baptist minister who owns an automobile dealership, is understandably shaken by this revelation, which threatens his son and his standing in his community on both religious and commercial grounds.
After consulting with some elders of his church, he decides to have his son cured by placing him in a conversion therapy program run by an organization unfortunately named Love in Action. The conversion program is run by Victor Sykes (Joel Edgerton), who tells the kids sent to him that homosexuality is an immoral choice; to overcome it, they must embrace his religious training and relinquish their parents’ influence. It’s his theory that parents are largely responsible for their children’s sexual confusion. Many of the adolescents under his tutelage are skeptical, although a few try fervently to correct their predilections. Sykes means well but is wholly unqualified to counsel his charges. He uses the threat of God’s wrath to motivate them. When Jared rebels against this doctrinaire, ham-handed program and tries to leave the Love in Action facility, Sykes attempts to restrain him forcibly. This precipitates Jared’s departure. What’s not made clear in the film is that Conley’s stay at Love in Action was only a two-week evaluation period designed to determine if he would be a suitable candidate. While the film tries to make the program seem intolerable, you have to wonder if two weeks’ worth of moralizing would be all that dreadful.
The story of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, adapted from a novel by Emily Danforth, follows a similar arc. At her high-school prom, Cameron (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her friend are discovered by their male dates making out in the back seat of a car. The next thing you know her aunt is dropping her off at God’s Promise, a conversion therapy institute where she’s gently beleaguered by well-meaning counselors who seem quite innocent of psychological insight into adolescent behavior of any kind. Cameron keeps her own counsel as she goes through the program’s routines and submits to its religious training. This does not prevent her from befriending two other “patients” with whom she finds means to resist the mild indoctrination being imposed upon her by a counselor who was himself a homosexual before undergoing the therapy and, it turns out, may still be of this persuasion.
I was sympathetic to the conversion therapy movement when I first learned of it. After all, I’d reasoned, there have been many homosexuals who, for whatever reasons, decided to behave heterosexually at times, often joining the heterosexual ranks more or less permanently. The British novelist Evelyn Waugh would be a case in point. After engaging in several homosexual affairs as an undergraduate at Oxford, he went on to have relationships with women and married Laura Herbert, with whom he had seven children. Waugh regarded his homosexuality as a phase leading to heterosexual maturity and even made it a thematic thread of his best-known novel, Brideshead Revisited. I strongly suspect that discarding same-sex inclinations for heterosexual relations is not as extraordinary as it might at first seem. So a program that could facilitate this turnabout for those who wanted to live as heterosexuals might be all to the good. Further reading, however, has persuaded me to doubt the widespread efficacy of any such therapy.
There’s not much sex on display in either of these conversion films, which seems appropriate given the dour consequences of homosexual activity seen through their lenses. Another film with sex on its mind, however, displays plenty, but not in the ordinary two-backed beast style. Tamara Jenkins’s film Private Life is about a couple in their 40’s, Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) and Richard (Paul Giamatti), who are desperate to have a child but unable to do so. She is too old to conceive readily, and his sperm production is blocked. So they both become patients to doctors who provide some hope that medical intervention can answer their need. They try artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. Neither works. It’s then on to implanting a fertilized egg in Rachel. At first she balks because the resulting child would not have her chromosomes. Then it occurs to them that their 25-year-old niece, Sadie (Kayli Carter), might help out. The young woman is more than happy to do so. In fact, she’s eager to give her aunt and uncle a chance for a child with family chromosomes. Her mother, however, objects strenuously to her daughter’s sacrificing her eggs for Rachel. After all, a woman’s eggs are not limitless, and Sadie will presumably need them for her own children in the near future. Still, Sadie is determined to make the contribution. Among other things, doing so will give some point to her somewhat feckless life. That Rachel and Richard have themselves been feckless does not occur to Sadie. She has revered them, admiring their bohemian lifestyle. They haven’t given in to the lure of middle-class security. They write and produce off-off-Broadway plays while living in a tiny apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown. What Sadie doesn’t see is that their living arrangement has come with a price—their childlessness, which they’re now trying to correct. Their efforts to achieve fertility take a serious toll on their marriage, however, causing them to bicker nearly constantly. At one overwrought moment, Richard reminds Rachel that her earlier decisions drove her to put off pregnancy. She’s been an ardent feminist pursuing her professional goals, one of which was producing a book by age 40. She angrily responds, “It’s not Gloria Steinem’s fault we can’t get pregnant.” It is a grim laugh line, but it’s also apposite. Many ambitious women caught up in second-wave feminism, as it’s called, were unrealistic in choosing to postpone childrearing and, as a result, became disappointed with if not embittered by the “visionaries” such as Steinem, who foisted their theories upon them. Unfortunately, Jenkins doesn’t develop this point. Too bad. It can’t be said too often that biology is often a cruel master that treads on many of our hopes. Ideology can’t stand up to it.
Hahn and Giamatti are very good portraying a well-meaning but confused couple who don’t seem to realize how selfish they have been and are. They seem to me the quintessential urban couple: overeducated, holding all the approved opinions, and almost entirely oblivious to the constraints that one way or another eventually bring us to heel.
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