Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Imitation Game

I've always known of Alan Turing as "the father of modern computing"—the guy who first described certain things in certain ways which have proven to be useful, certainly. The recent Weinstein movie about Turing, The Imitation Game, suggests that he invented "Turing machines", and those are just another name for computers, which is the sort gross inaccuracy you expect from a Hollywood film about a gay genius.

I had some reticence about seeing this film, because I was worried they were going to turn a story about a gay computer guy (there are many) into a story about a gay guy who worked on computers. Which, frankly, it's a trivialization of anyone to reduce them to their sexuality.

They do do this, actually, but do it so well, you'll hardly notice it's being done.

This is a slickly made pseudo-biopic centered primarily around Turing's work at Bletchley Park, where the German code was cracked in WWII. It's taut, dramatic, fun to watch, and wholly fictional both in terms of details and big story elements.

Turing's contributions are exaggerated. . His social eccentricities are turned into severe liabilities (they weren't). He's presented as a loner (he wasn't). He's presented as a man pining for a lost childhood love (maybe?), so much so that he names his computer after him (it wasn't). He's blackmailed into silence by a Soviet spy over his homosexuality (who knows?). He's punched (he wasn't) by the very hetero guy for making a statement about hiding intelligence (never his call). They present him as having killed himself (experts disagree) during court-mandated hormone treatment (it had ended over a year prior to his death) which crippled him intellectually (it didn't).

He's outed as a homosexual when cops come to investigate a robbery of his house (never happened) on a neighbor's noise complaint (not a thing) which he didn't report because of his homosexuality. That was a stretch.

The producers have said people get hung up over accuracy, when they're not going for accuracy, they're just trying to present to the audience what it was like to be Alan. I disagree: they've made a composite gay-experience guy and put him in Turing's body.

Like I said, though, this largely works, dramatically, even if it feels overly slick at times. Where it rang false was in their portrayal Commander Denniston, who ran Bletchley park for the first years of the war. He's sort of the stock "angry dean" character of college comedies, the closest people in Hollywood seem to come to understanding military types. I can believe that Denniston didn't get the nerds in Hut 8; I can't believe that he would do anything to jeopardize the war effort, just because (as the movie has it) he didn't like someone. That's not how non-emotionality-based-organizations work.

Not that I'd expect anyone in a Hollywood "idea room" to get that.

It's sort of like when a character is expected to let his brother die rather than let out information, and he cries and complains about it. That just doesn't seem very British to me. At least, not the British of WWII. But those guys are mostly not around any more, and a movie has to be made for the audience that's here, right?

Yes, I'm being highly critical, but I say to you: We liked it. It's a good movie. You're probably not gonna care about this stuff. I really didn't much until after the movie.

Benedict Cumberbatch is fine, as always. Keira Knightly passes for a homely computer nerd. That evil Lannister guy is the evil Commander. The always great Mark Strong (The Guard, Green Lantern, Zero Dark Thirty) has a great role as a presumably entirely fictitious MI6 agent who acts as a sort of deus ex machina.

It is, as @juleslalaland has noted, a fine season for actors in projects that don't rise to the same level of skill.

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