Conflicted Camouflage

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A friend and I sat down and watched the indie gay/bullying film Camouflage written, directed, and starring Kyle T. Cowan.

Mr. Cowan has made his film available to watch online or download free of charge.  He does ask in exchange that people watching the film give money to one of the causes the film supports: Gay and lesbian youth, anti-bullying, or gun control.  Then he asks us to do an act of kindness and make a video about the good we’ve done to “raise awareness” and “change the world”.

Sigh.

That sort of thing is forbidden by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  If I have done any good, or good has come from watching this film, I would be commanded to keep it to myself.  But I did promise a film review, and I will be as brief as I can and do it justice.  Practically every sentence in this review could constitute and entire post if I had the time and energy.

Camouflage is a solidly-crafted indie film that draws heavily on stage acting experience.  There are very few sets, a handful of cast, and scene structure goes a long way towards telling the story.  It’s a frame story about a college shooting, with an unreliable narrator whose past and position remain somewhat clouded as series’ of flashbacks are set apart by interviews with the most poorly-cast FBI agent I have ever seen.  Not only did I never believe for a second that the self-descriptive, soft, and sympathetic law officer was actually a cop, but she served too well as the useful idiot.  Fortunately, Adriana Leonard’s portrayal is the only sub-par bit of acting in the film.  Kyle T. Cowan plays the lead as well as directing and producing the film.  His outbursts verge on over-the-top from time to time, but otherwise stay solid.  Jimmy Bennett, Rodney Eastman, and a surprising performance by unknown Brandon Winner as teen-aged Austin (the shooter/protagonist) carry a lot of weight in roles that had their challenges.  The cinematography is of good quality for a low-budged film, sound and lighting are superbly well done (meaning at no time did they draw away from the story), and there is a nice touch to the shorting florescent light that always brings the semi-dissociated narrator’s brokenness to mind and keeps it there.

The story in a nutshell is that a bullied homosexual boy has to bury his ‘true self’ (meaning his homosexuality) in order to live a life accepted in society.  When he does act on his homosexual desires he is traumatized when younger, and as an adult snaps and goes full-on psycho in a completely unjustifiable way that is meant to look sympathetic.  The film’s producer lists three primary causes that the film is supposed to change in the world: bullying, gay teen issues, and gun control.  It’s a tragedy that the film is more activism than drama, because there was a good story idea in here, but the story is undermined frequently by the need to hit all the politically correct beats.

As a drama, Camouflage is more than worth the price of admission (and if you want to send $5 or the price of a movie rental to a cause of your choice, there’s nothing wrong with that.  As an activism piece, it largely fails.  People who already believe in all of the film’s messages will love it, but internal consistencies rob the film’s arguments of their staying power.

A Christian film reviewer, I deliberately look at gay cinema for a couple of reasons.  First, there cannot be a gag reflex if we are ever going to reach out to those we disagree with (which is the opposite of the LGBT community’s striving for hatred to condemn those who disagree with them and to silence them in the name of ‘tolerance’).  It is frankly impossible to say ‘you’re gross’ and ‘come to Jesus’ in the same lifetime.  Look at Jesus and the leper in Matthew.  First, Jesus had compassion on the leper.  Then Jesus touched the leper just as he was.  Finally, Jesus healed the leper and made him clean.  The church today shouts all the time to condemn gay marriage, and it wants nothing to do with the ex-gay movement or other undesirables unless they hide their wounds and struggles.

This is just plain wrong.  If you can avoid the raunchy sex-comedy stuff and watch a good drama (Prayers for Bobby, this film Camouflage, and a couple others are good places to start) there is a lot of honesty about the hurt and suffering that homosexuals go through in life.

That is one area where Camouflage shines.  Austin’s father rejects him socially and emotionally again and again.  Galvin (the father) finds young Austin playing house and kissing games with his dolls at an age far too young to be sexually engaged, and brings in his wife to publicly shame Austin.  Later, when teenage Austin is beaten for being gay, Galvin rejects Austin for not shooting quickly enough, calls him a pussy, and stalks off.  The message is clear, and it is the same message that most of the homosexual men I know have received all their lives from their fathers and older brothers: You don’t belong in the masculine world, you are inferior, unwanted, and rejected.  Galvin, played by Rodney Eastman, does a very fine job of a father who does love his son in his own troubled way, but has no effective means of communicating it, and that wound scars Austin in a life-long way.

That is good stuff, a message that is true, timely, and relevant.  Galvin points to high suicide rates, violence, and the troubles of active and openly homosexual teens experience.  He doesn’t want that for his son, which is a loving and good point, but his every attempt to deal with that problem just makes the problem worse.  (I have gone through some of these issues in a video here.)

The problem of teenage bullying is very well done, and no review of the film would be complete without citing Brandon Winner’s performance as the teenage Austin.  The boy had very few lines.  He had to carry off vulnerability, sacrificial love in a bullying scene, and many other subtle emotions with perhaps a handful of lines to go with, and the role was critical to build sympathy for his psychotic and violent adult self.

The film’s idea that it has an impact on gun control is laughable.  The FBI agent states already that Austin, the shooter, came by his guns illegally.  Once something is illegal it’s illegal.  There is no reason given or logic behind the idea that making firearms more illegal would have changed anything.  The standard responses to this argument hold fast: When school shooters are the only ones with guns, their rampage goes on unhindered.  When someone else has a gun, the shooter gets stopped.  This has been true every single school shooting I have ever researched, and the Camouflage film has nothing to convince someone who already disagrees with him.

The gay-teen bullying argument also starts to fall short very quickly.  At a party Austin’s secret boyfriend kisses him.  Called a ‘faggot’ and asked to leave, his response is to violently attack his host.  (His assault escalates and shockingly enough, he isn’t Bruce Lee and the collective party guests beat him up and throw him out after he started the violence in the first place.)  Folks, that isn’t standing up for LGBT issues, that’s felony assault.  The very tiny minority (the gay community) absolutely depends on the principle of a free society that they (LGBT crowd) may be offensive and disagreeable to many but completely physically safe from harm.  I completely agree with that, by the way.

But Camouflage joins The Perks of Being a Wallflower as having a scene where, called an anti-homosexual slur, the gay protagonist physically attacks his verbal accuser (and loses, and either has someone defend them or gets beaten up).  This message works very strongly against the principles of tolerance and acceptance that the LGBT community demands.  When your philosophical differences require the use of fists, you’re not talking tolerance but arguing over which viewpoint has a right to tyranny.  “Don’t publicly scorn a gay person or they have the right to assault you.” is deplorable and despicable just as, “Don’t be gay in public or they have a right to assault you.”  Both viewpoints are hateful, sinful, and wrong.  As long as the LGBT community refuses to condemn such violent reactions from its own spokespeople it isn’t going to gain a lot of traction among its detractors.

Moreover, the entire rationale for the shooting hinges on the innocence and victim status of Austin, who did not simply leave when asked (the legal and moral high ground, because did he really need to be partying with people who don’t want him there?) but attacked others, and stated repeatedly that they all deserved to die.  He fantasizes or actually does go kill every person in the frat because he attacked one of them (with provocation) lost, and was thrown out.

As a point of rhetoric, one thing I am not going to miss until my next bout reviewing an LGBT film is the total identification of personal identity with sexual desire.  Every character who addresses the issue accepts the following as truth: Austin, hiding his homosexual desires, is denying his true self.  People are not their sexual desires.  Did Austin not truly exist until his first orgasm?  If he becomes impotent in his later life, will he cease to be a full person?  What if the message was instead that Austin was much more than who he wanted to sleep with, that he was his skills, his education, his career, his non-sexual relationships, his religious beliefs… All of those things begin far before and last long after someone’s sexual life.  Austin is portrayed as a bisexual man, but only his homosexuality is called his ‘true self’.  Why?  It goes back to the same double-standard as the bullying.  The film rightly depicts bullying a teenage boy for having homosexual feelings as contemptible, but winks and nods at homosexuals being violent to anyone who disagrees or disapproves.  Austin’s secret lover in college tells him “bi is just a step on the path to gay” which would be horrifying to the LGBT community if Austin’s dad said, “this is just experimentation, it’s just a step on the path to straight.”

So, for an interesting drama, a quick and accurate look at the pain of bullied gay teens, and a smorgasbord of LGBT double-standards, Camouflage was an interesting film.  I would recommend it for any Christian who has a loved one in the LGBT community, or who wants engage in that debate.  The logic falls apart, but at the heart level the pathos, anger, and hurt of this movie are dead-on.

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