Monday, February 23, 2015

The Imitation Game - Imitating a Film

Everyone crowd around and see my brilliance!

This weekend we watched The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and, apparently no one else.  I didn’t even know Keira Knightley was in the movie, misportraying Joan Clarke, until she showed up, beautiful and brilliant.  In a misguided and wonderfully acted attempt to honor Turing, the movie actually does an unfortunate job misportraying him and everyone else around him.  In trying to highlight Turing’s contribution to the British war effort, and decoding the German Enigma transmissions, the movie completely misses the mark of who Turing was, and what he actually did.  Worst of all, the movie embraces the long-debunked and damaging 1950s myth and prejudice that homosexuals are somehow huge security risks because of their very nature.

Don’t get me wrong, if offered the chance, I’d watch Cumberbatch and Knightley read phone books for 120+ minutes.  Twice.  The brilliance that was Turing, in advance of almost anyone else at the time, is over-highlighted by the movie, and it’s done so at the expense of pretty much everyone else who played an incredible and significant role at Blechley Park, including Turing.  Brilliance does not immediately equate to antisocial behavior, a lack of sense of humor, or intellectual elitism.  Not every genius needs to be reduced to the idiosyncratic, one-note laugh-cliché of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.  Turing certainly had his eccentricities, but the idea that he didn’t play with others, and play well with them, is insulting to the memory of the man.

Whaddya mean fake characters can be more real?
There are numerous documentaries and biographies available that make these points abundantly clear.  In the most-excellent, four-part documentary Station X (which can be found on YouTube), it is quickly and easily understood that Bletchley Park housed some of the best and the brightest, not to mention some of the hardest working.  Turing was certainly a giant, but he walked amongst giants, and that’s the biggest mistake the movie makes.  Instead of showing audiences how bright, quick, and dedicated everyone else was, the movie makes the hard work of the nearly 10,000 people staffed at Blechley insignificant.  That’s nice for Turing, to seem to be a misunderstood genius struggling alone ala Dr. House, with a brilliant breakthrough triggered by an off-hand remark, but it’s so far from reality as to be another universe entirely.  A reportedly warm, open, and friendly Turing is rejected in favor of a loner, outcast and intellectual snob who had to be taught how to work with others to make any progress.  In truth, brilliant people including Turing had tackled the problems of the German ciphers, and had great success.  Different problems surrounding the German’s varied use of Engima were solved by different people, with Turing coming up with some of the most insightful and brilliant solutions.

The worst sin of all is the portrayal of Joan Clarke as a symbolic every-woman from the 1940s.  Knightley is brilliant, bubbly and fun—as always.  But her Clarke’s own intelligence, abilities and achievements, while under-appreciated at a time when women were criminally unappreciated, were nonetheless known.  She, in her own right, was an intellectual giant, which is exactly why she was recruited, and not through a crossword contest (which was done, but not by Turing).  The movie does make it seem that Clarke is Turing’s equal, which is nice.  But the film lays on the character’s shoulders all the wrongs done to women, brilliant or not, at the time, which misses the mark entirely.  The idea that “after all, she’s only a woman” is hammered home enough times to give the audience a hangover.  The Bletchley Circle, a murder-mystery drama centered around four women who worked at Bletchley Park, does a much better job of reflecting the quiet desperation of women who had to much responsibility, but so little respect.  These are characters made-up from whole cloth, and yet they provide better insight than the actual historical figures, like Knightley's Clarke.
Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Who let the girl in there!?

Ultimately, The Imitation Game simply takes too much onto itself to right wrongs done against a great many during a time of great and brilliant effort.  Well-acted, beautifully shot, wonderfully imagined and portrayed, the film is worth watching, but only as a spring-board to the truth behind deeply and wonderfully complex individuals who are nothing at all like the characters in this film.  As a primer for “what things were like” the film works, but as a portrayal of factual characters and interactions, it falls flat with a bloody nose and two black eyes.  It's an imitation game of better films and source material.

No comments:

Post a Comment