A nimble blending of past and present footage and testimonies from key first-hand sources offers a devastating exposé of a controversial and ongoing movement in this documentary.
Pray Away opens to the sound of pouring rain and closes on disturbing statistics about the lasting impact of conversion therapy; in between, the mood remains purposefully melancholy. Interviewees bring the statistics to distressing life with honest revelations about deeply personal experiences. A former teen subject of the therapy describes her self harming in detail, a previous national spokesperson lets the camera into a private counseling session that has for nearly a decade helped her grapple with her former role in the movement, and others lay bare the anxiety and depression that resulted from years of denying their own truths.
As one man, who had been the most public face of successful conversion therapy for years before he was photographed at a gay bar, put it, changed behavior (getting married, not acting on his homosexual impulses) never equaled changed feelings. Now, these former "ex-gay" leaders of the movement, all of whom have since admitted their true sexuality, say all they can do to make amends is to speak up loudly against conversion therapy.
One fascinating aspect of the movement depicted in the film is its profound intertwining with Christian faith, which wrapped sexuality, gender, relationships, and love up with shame, guilt, obedience, and God's approval. It's powerful when one "survivor" demonstrates how faith has also been part of her healing process, and she and her fiancée are wed in a beautiful church in the film's second half. The movement is also shown to have picked up political steam during the George W. Bush administration and among conservative leaders of that time.
The documentary makes no attempt to balance its own stance, and one subject becomes the unwitting anti-hero. A self-described former transvestite, Jeffrey McCall offers to pray with passersby at a strip mall, provides apparently unqualified therapy to concerned parents, and organizes a "Freedom March" to spread the word of his own salvation through Jesus.
McCall presumably agreed to be included in the film, while other contemporary leaders of the movement declined. He seems to be positioned by the makers of the film as the continuation today of all that the former leaders denounce.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.