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‘Boy Erased’ and the Rise of Queer Coming-of-Age Films

(Source: theatlantic.com)

Two prominent depictions of Christian gay-to-straight “conversion therapy,” the star-studded Boy Erased and the Sundance winner The Miseducation of Cameron Post, forgo the notion of puberty as a full-circle journey. So, in more oblique ways, did Moonlight, the Best Picture winner at the 2017 Oscars, and the 2018 Best Picture contender Call Me by Your Name. Whether persecuted or nurtured by their surroundings, queer teens fundamentally flip the Breakfast Club script: Their fear is not that they’ll become their parents, but that they face a future in which that isn’t a possibility. If that sounds potentially freeing, it is also, in these movies at least, a special kind of terrifying.

In literature and elsewhere, the go-to queer narrative is the coming-out story, which might seem well suited to the on-screen LGBTQ teenager on the brink of autonomy. After all, high-school movies are always, on some level, about outing: The protagonist struggles—nervously or defiantly or both—to announce who she really is to the world. But the queer teens now taking center stage are understandably gun-shy about this rite. Almost in passing, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird highlights the difference in what’s at stake. For Saoirse Ronan in the title role, bucking the dutiful-teen image is a performative thrill; her boyfriend (Lucas Hedges), who she discovers is gay, isn’t ready to upend parental expectations in what feels like a more irrevocable way.

Putting that apprehension in the foreground, this year’s gay-teen movies summon external forces to yank identity struggles into the open. In Love, Simon, Simon (Nick Robinson) is blackmailed by a classmate who discovers the secret Simon had hoped to keep through high school—and the kid eventually outs him anyway. Family members, peers, and school staff rally in support of an almost caricatured romantic-comedy finale for Simon: Young lovers ride a Ferris wheel, happily ever after. Simon never dreamed he’d remain in the closet; he just wanted to time his emergence to his arrival at college. That the mortifying disruption of this plan turns out to be kismet is not unlike what happens to the straight teens of Sixteen Candles and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, who have their private crushes revealed against their will.

The recent conversion-therapy movies redraw the blueprint more radically with the simple recognition that for a lot of queer youths, exposure really can spell catastrophe. In Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post, set in the 1990s, the title character (Chloë Grace Moretz) is furtively hooking up with another girl at prom when the car door is flung open by Cameron’s male date. In Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased, Jared (Hedges again), the Arkansas son of a hard-line preacher (Russell Crowe), diligently resists acting on his same-sex attractions—but is still outed, in extremely traumatic circumstances, when he goes to college in the early 2000s. The unmasking of these characters doesn’t represent a capstone of self-actualization; it kicks off a communal effort to constrain who they might become—to stop same-sex attraction before it “gets worse,” as one Boy Erased church elder puts it.

More Info: theatlantic.com

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