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Review: The Imitation Game

Fri 2 Jan 2015 In: Movies View at Wayback View at NDHA

The Imitation Game Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Charles Dance and Alex Lawther Directed by: Morten Tyldum Now showing in theatres throughout New Zealand Alan Turing In a mystifying way the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game both glorifies Turing's homosexuality and airbrushes it out of the way. Turing, one of the greatest mathematical minds of the 20th century and the creator the concept of the programmable computer which paved the way for the modern world and our future, was also a homosexual and a hard to handle personality. He was credited by Winston Churchill for ending World War II two years earlier than would have been the case without his stunning work as part of the now-famed code-breakers Bletchley Park operation in WWII Britain. But when his homosexuality landed him in court on an obscenity charge, homosexual intimacy then being illegal, Turing lost his security clearance and was never able to work in the field again. Worse, he chose chemical castration over a jail sentence and that wrecked his life. He died, a probable suicide, in 1954. Cumberbatch as Turing He was truly one of the greatest gay men the world has known. A biopic was well overdue and Benedict Cumberbatch's interpretation of Turing as embodied in The Imitation Game's script is a magnificent piece of acting. And the small-scale evocation of wartime Britain feels right and real. It's easy to watch, an all-round enjoyable experience in which his homosexuality is an integral part. It colours his teenage boarding school years. It undermines the only thing close to a relationship he ever had with a woman. It in the end is the basis for the destruction of his career and his life. And yet somehow, onscreen, it is missing in action. It's talked about, alluded to, hinted at, discussed. But we never see it, apart from a shattering moment when his first teenage crush dies just as he has summoned up the courage to write a little love note. And later on we briefly glimpse the man with whom Turing had had an assignation which led to the criminal charge. It is known that Turing was boldly, openly gay. His logical mind saw no reason to hide the reality of his life. He had numerous affairs and was for those less-enlightened times indiscreet to the point of recklessness and folly. But instead of tastefully portraying, or at least honestly acknowledging, the dominant theme of his sexual and romantic attractions, ie. hooking up with men in Britain and overseas, The Imitation Game focuses inexplicably on his short-lived engagement to a woman which is a meeting of minds and psyches rather than souls and hearts. This unflinching acknowledgement of the part homosexuality played in his life and yet not actually embracing it is a significant flaw in an otherwise interesting and broadly informative movie. It's not a fatal flaw, but from gay perspective it leaves a lingering dissatisfaction. I've been a disciple of Turing for decades, from computer and pure-maths classes at High School to an on-going fascination with the labyrinthine and occasionally eccentric efforts to both crack the German communication codes and yet keep the successes secret from just about everyone. So some of the telescoping of facts and events to fit the movie format jarred somewhat. Did Turing actually build the grand and complex machines as the movie implies. Well, no. He developed the theory and designed the mechanics and others built it. Was he actually making life or death decisions on what decoded intelligence to use and which to withhold? No, but the movie implies he did in order to bolster the unproven but likely theory that he took his own life by arsenic poisoning partly because of the traumatic weight he carried due to his intimate involvement in the deep and dark arts of wartime intelligence work. Cumberbatch as Turing is surrounded by a cast of top-notch actors who never skip a beat. A standout is Alex Lawther as the young, bullied, socially inept and emotionally stunted Turing. The production values are magnificent and as a pocket evocation of Bletchley Park in wartime Britain every box is ticked, almost studiously so. It's watchable, it puts flesh on the bones of Turing's story, it's great to have Turing's life and contribution finally acknowledged on the big screen. And yet, right in the centre of all this excellent movie-making that unsatisfying hole left by the absence of his actual homosexuality is impossible to ignore. One lingering and appreciative glance by the adult Turing at an attractive adult male would probably have been enough to mostly fill the hole, but it never happens. In real life Turing was chemically castrated, on screen he has been cinematically castrated. - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 2nd January 2015    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Friday, 2nd January 2015 - 9:24pm

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