Saturday, November 1

Chasing the Devil for Halloween

It is clear that Mishara Canino and Bill Hussung set out to make a fair-minded account of the ex-gay movement, partly because we hear a voice assert this to subjects as they become qualmy or defensive under inquiry. But one has to wonder whether this is entirely possible or desirable with this set of pernicious kooks who profit from the societally-inflicted self-loathing of their “patients”. Certainly, they do their job in providing the subjects with an opportunity to argue their case. Several times we see an empty chair as the infamous Richard Cohen flees simple accountability. At other times, subjects bear his hard-hitting questions and expose us to the absurd and chilling reasoning and farcical faith that drives their mission to rid themselves and their flock of the homosexual desires they find unacceptable yet unshakable. However, the endeavor is clearly skewed towards showing these false prophets for the deplorable jokes that they are. Joanne Highley, a Manhattan minister, doesn’t help her case when she earnestly explains that demons enter the body at the point where homo intercourse occurs, but this line of interviewing is useful in the audience’s assessment of these views. Less useful or unbiased are the filmmakers’ on the fly interviews of leather daddies and a drag queen at New York City’s PRIDE Parade. Revelation: they think ex-gay leaders are idiots. Indeed, these leaders are almost dismissable in their absurdity, except for the fact that they possess great power to ruin lives. The more compelling moments come from the sane but conflicted individuals who are either currently struggling to quell the demons of homo-desire or have emerged from the ex-gay fiasco with fascinating testimonies and battle scars (and diminished bank accounts) to show. One mild-mannered older gentleman who has been in reparative therapy for years and is undergoing training to be a ‘sexual reorientation coach’ under Cohen’s guidance, wistfully considers whether he has actually been ‘healed’, examining both his continued propensity for gay porn (looking is alright, but masturbating to it is a regression) and his yearning for someone with whom he may share the rest of his days (platonically, if it happens to be a man). Moments like this largely make up for some seemingly random selection of visuals and distracting zooms and camera movement (how close to the Jesus sculpture’s face must we get?). Various quibbles can be made about this documentary’s construction, but, ultimately, it is rewarding to get a rare inside glimpse into this segment of the religious right and to hear from those who have survived their remedy.
-Kevin Langson