Films about conversion therapy: Lost sons, forbidden daughters

Modal theme Conversion Therapy: "The Prodigal Son" starring Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe is not the only film to talk about dubious homosexual reeducation courses. What's behind the trend?

When Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) announced last Friday that he wanted to ban so-called conversion therapies, the surprise was great. Are courses designed to "cure" homosexuals of their sexual orientation really a topic in Germany?

In any case, they are in the cinema, because recently three films have taken up the treatment called conversion therapy or reparative therapy: "The Prodigal Son" by Joel Edgerton, "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" by Desiree Akhavan and "Temblores" by Jayro Bustamante.

"The Prodigal Son" will be released in cinemas this week in Germany, in a sense representing the theme's Hollywood treatment method. Based on the memoirs of US journalist Garrard Conley, shooting star Lucas Hedges ("Manchester by the Sea") plays a young man named Jared, who grows up in a strict Baptist household.

At first he only makes experiences of violence related to his homosexuality: his first homoerotic flirtation in college rapes him and then reveals Jared's affinity with his parents (Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe). Anxious, Jared is therefore persuaded to a conversion therapy. However, when he witnesses a brutal exorcism-like ritual on another participant, he overcomes his self-doubt and flees.

With a large star cast, "The Prodigal Son" mobilizes against conversion therapy, despite the fact that after a wedding in the 1990s, there is still considerable support in parts of the US religious rights. At the same time, the film at best touches the role of religion in the persecution of homosexuals. Kidman and Crowe do not portray the religiously different as the devout parents, but the culturally different ones: she wears a yellow-blond wig and costume jewelery, he has short-sleeved shirts and luscious bacon, together they are Oscar winners in themed drag.

In the drama spectacle, which is fueled by short appearances by vocalist Troye Sivan and director Xavier Dolan, the socio-political dimension of the topic comes to the fore. No-one needs to feel challenged in his beliefs or gender roles here.

TuVasVoir / Berlinale

Juan Pablo Olyslager (middle) in "Temblores"

Such insecurities succeed Jayro Bustamante's "Temblores" (shocks) all the better. The Guatemalan drama, which just celebrated its world premiere at the Panorama section of the Berlinale, focuses on the father of two, Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager), who decides against the family and his lover.

Neither his status-bound wife nor his rich family clan want to accept this decision. They refuse Pablo contact with the children and spread rumors that he abused them. Pablo then loses his highly-paid job at a law firm. In the end, it's just the church where he finds a job - after all, they still believe in atonement. Because he apparently can not expect any forgiveness, Pablo finally agrees to a treatment and speaks on instructions of a self-proclaimed therapist soon thank you prayers that he is not a slave, not a pagan and no woman.

Cleverly, Bustamante captures how complex homophobia is woven into society, how closely it is associated with heteronormativity and rigid notions of "real" families - and how powerful the prejudice is still that male homosexuality and pedophilia have something to do with one another , In the end, Pablo's consent to a therapy does not seem like a decision in its own right, but rather like one of society's.

While "Temblores" and "The Prodigal Son" play in the present or the recent past, "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" (previously only released on DVD) starts in the 90s - and at a time when " Because I'm a girl "for the first time a US movie took conversion therapies.


Desiree Akhavan:
The Miseducation of Cameron Post

with Chloe Grace Moretz, Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Jennifer Ehle

DVD; 90 minutes; 16,88 euros

Order at Amazon.

With Jamie Babitts directorial debut from 1999 (original title: "But I'm a Cheerleader") Desiree Akhavan shares the lesbian teen as the main character. It upsets the rigid high school hetero-order of Prom Kings and Queens, Jocks and Cheerleaders with her desire and is promptly condemned for re-education.

Where Babitt sat on satirical exaggeration, Akhavan however suggests more melancholic tones. She tells the eponymous error of Cameron Post (Chloƫ Grace Moretz), which is urged by her foster mother to the therapy, on the one hand as a typical coming-of-age. In a mix of summer camp and special school, Cameron must seek new friends, emancipate from false authorities, and find their own way through life's thicket.

On the other hand, Akhavan works out how much harder this process is for queer teenagers. If their desire is so fundamentally called into question that there are special programs of re-education for them, then the simple emancipation is not enough, then only the complete breakout of the previously lived structures can be the consequence.

At the end of "The Miseducation by Cameron Post" are the most painful conflict, but also the greatest liberation. One is socially conditioned, the other is personally responsible for Cameron. So Akhavan succeeds in a film that leaves the story of her main character in their hands, without privatizing them at the same time - a precarious, but decisive balance that the other films do not hold.

"The Prodigal Son" has been in German cinemas since February 21st. "Temblores" does not yet have a theatrical release.

ref: spiegel