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The Enigma of The Imitation Game



I am a glad participant in weekly screenings at guilds and film centers of various fractions. I feel particularly lucky because each and every screening is followed by a Q&A by film folk involved in the making of the masterpiece. This might be one of the hidden pleasures of living in Los Angeles: the people responsible for the success and/or failure of a film are within arm’s reach.

After I gladly watched the surprisingly entertaining Gone Girl, the emotionally disturbing American Sniper (see below), it was time for The Imitation Game, the story of a bunch of dusty university nerds under the lead of Alan Turing who crack the German Enigma-code and put an end to World War II.

It is a good film, really. It’s a touching film, full of wittiness and intellectual struggle. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Charles Dance (our favorite Game of Thrones-villain), and the rest of the cast for that matter, give a marvelous and spot on performance. The powerful score by French composer Alexandre Desplat (whose talents went to The King’s Speech, Argo, and Benjamin Button and about one-hundred other blockbusters) underlines the film’s themes of secrecy and mystery all too well.

Turing’s three timelines (boarding school, early 40’s, early 50’s) are masterfully interwoven, and with the help of Turing’s machine, the allies finally cause Hitler’s defeat. You feel the maths-nerds excitement when the Turing machine finally spits out the right answers, and you feel the maths-nerds plight when they realize they must from now on pretend not to have cracked the code. The knowledge of Turing’s machine by the Germans would mean the end to all their endeavors.

And then you know, you feel that the film is over, and that the story has been told. 

You wait for the fade out.

And then the film keeps going for another ten minutes. 

Ten minutes that strangely do a disservice to the previous cinematic experience via on-the-nose exposition which, at this point, leads nowhere and adds nothing to the code-breaker plot. Turing tells his former colleague and ex-fiancée Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly) that he was exposed for indecency, henceforth sentenced to chemical castration by hormone therapy.

Tell me this isn’t the bleakest of outlooks after such a positive and empowering story.

Turing’s homosexuality and the societal implications of said sexuality were rightfully ignored for the major bulk of the film, because both writer Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum knew that the story is about cracking the Enigma code. The emphasis on Turing’s inclinations at the very end seems forced and half-assed (yes, this is a professional screenwriting term). In layman’s terms, Turing’s homosexuality was a use-it or lose-it in his story. You can’t half-ass somebody’s (at the time, extraordinary) sexuality unless the story isn’t about it. And to me, it seems as if Moore and Tyldum knew the film really wasn’t about the gayness of a genius, but about a genius cracking a code by building the first digital computer and winning the war.

Now, if you read the script, which you can do here, you’ll see that it has an extra scene at the end: The script ends in the discovery of Turing’s body in his flat, death through cyanide poisoning. Though wiki deems that a suicide hasn’t been confirmed and that in fact it could have well been coinci-cide (through careless handling of cyanide), the script claims a tragic ending. And it might as well at this point.

The film does not show this scene, but gives us cards in the end, as biopics so often do. We learn Turing has committed suicide, that he was pardoned by the Queen in 2013, that his machine was the first of its kind and a forerunner of our modern-day computers.

And then, another card tells us that approximately 49,000 other gay men were convicted and punished under UK law between 1885 and 1967.

Let me reiterate. 
This film isn’t about the prosecution of homosexuals in the UK between 1885 and 1967.

When Joan Clarke tells Alan Turing at the end:

"This morning I took a train through a city that would not exist if it wasn't for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn't for you. I read up on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. If you wish you could have been 'normal,' I can promise you, I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren't."

In this last scene, the issue at hand is Turing's gayness that keeps him from being "normal." Throughout the entire film though, what kept Turing from being ordinary was his ingenuity and brilliance. He didn't solve the puzzle because he was gay, but because he was a genius. The switch in focus doesn't roll off the tongue easily and imperfects an otherwise perfect story and film.


Now, having seen the King’s Speech more than once, the Imitation Game’s approximation to the King’s Speech is at times unsettling, phraseology and character architecture mimicking the successful 2010 flick about a stuttering king all too closely. The Imitation Game is quite the imitation game, cleverly. 

Why? Both babies are Weinsteins, with one difference: The King’s Speech was rated R, for the king’s stutter crutch (fuckfuckfuck), whereas The Imitation Game is a PG-13 venture, for the strict omittance of homosexual graphics and fuckfuckfuck’s. Surprisingly, The King’s Speech is still the more successful film at the box office (to date). But since the Imitation Game will most likely receive some Academy Award being nominated eight times, the Weinsteins can yet again find peace in the knowledge that biopics don’t sell but win stuff. 
 
The subsequent Q&A round consists of all the big important ones: Tyldum himself, Moore himself, the producers Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky, and editor William Goldenberg.

Graham Moore, a young charming dude from Chicago, tells of his early fascination with computers and Turing’s story. Apparently, he wasn’t too talented in computing, so he turned to writing.

Yes, I AM feeling shoddy at this moment. This kid is my age and has an Oscar nomination under his tight belt, which is source of both my envy and my uplift. The nomination, not the tight belt.

Then the Q&A drifts into stranger tides:
Producers Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky claimed to never have heard of Turing’s life and fate. This must be true only partially: Apart from the 1995 Turing biography starring Derek Jacobi (Breaking the Code), the 2001 flick Enigma made over $15 M worldwide and featured names such as Dougray Scott, Saffron Burrows, Jeremy Northam, and Kate Winslet. The latter shared Keira Knightly’s part. Of course, Turing’s sexuality didn’t play any part in the 2001 movie, perhaps because somebody understood his sexuality had nothing to do with his ability to break the code. And just FYI, Enigma was crafted by one well-known Tom Stoppard. So although I seriously doubt that the producers have never heard of Enigma, I understand that it was via Andrew Hodges' book (Alan Turing: the Enigma) that Turing finally fell into Hollywood’s hairy crotch.
 
Its “freshness” factor being rather moldy, the Imitation Game is still an inspiring and heart-felt film that’s worth spending money on.

While researching for this entry, I came across a little Polish movie I’d like to share here:

Sekret Enigmy (1979) is about three Polish mathematicians who are the first to crack the sophisticated Enigma code used by the Germans just before the Second World War. They build replicas of the Enigma machines and manage to get two of the machines to the British and French code-breakers before the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Despite being tortured, they refuse to divulge their knowledge of the Enigma to the Nazis. (by Will Gilbert on imdb.com)

Sounds like a prequel to the Imitation Game, does it not?

Links of the day:


Kevin O’Keeffe’s stance on the (half-assed) ending of the Imitation Game, in The Atlantic.

One heck of a fun interview with Keira and Benedict that will brighten your day
 

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