The Imitation Game

I’d been looking forward to seeing The Imitation Game, mainly because its subject, Alan Turing, was such an interesting character. Brilliant and influential enough to be a household name but practically unknown until a few years ago outside of gay and computing circles, he was an eccentric who had an interesting life and came to a tragic end, and a war hero who was hounded and persecuted by the very society he’d worked so hard to save. Just like The Theory of Everything, which we’d seen a few days previously, this film told the amazing story of a very special person, and again with an outstanding performance, this time by Benedict Cumberbatch. Unfortunately, while I’d described that film as “far too ‘Hollywood’ for my liking”, this one went even further in that direction. Rather than any sort of attempt at a serious biography this was more of a ‘war film’ with a code-breaking theme and a bit of ‘spy film’ thrown in, an exciting adventure with lots of emotion and obviously designed more to entertain than to educate or inform. OK, the story of the breaking of the Enigma code is indeed an exciting one, but there were too many things here which were just too good to be true. I left the cinema wondering just how accurate the film was, and also surprised that Turing was seemingly such an extreme, asocial character who was so difficult to work with.

(details below)

When we got home I did some online research and was amazed at just how inaccurate this film is. Not only are countless details of the story changed beyond recognition and some ‘exciting’ episodes completely invented, but what I found even worse was that Turing’s personality had been totally misrepresented. In the film he’s portrayed with all the symptoms of Asperger syndrome, has great difficulty communicating, has absolutely no sense of humour and is constantly fighting with his colleagues and superiors. The real Alan Turing, on the other hand, while certainly a bit eccentric, was apparently also sociable and had friends, a sense of humour and good working relationships with his colleagues. The Wikipedia entry on the film has an extensive section devoted to its many inaccuracies, and I came across more elsewhere. OK, this isn’t supposed to be a documentary and there is such a thing as artistic licence, but there are also limits to it – and those limits depend very much on artistic merit. There’s no problem with using real-life events as raw material for a work of art, and if you produce something which really ‘works’, which stands up as an original work of art in its own right, independent of whatever inspired it, then no one is going to worry too much about accuracy. If, on the other hand, you’re simply telling the story of those real-life events, then you can’t stray nearly as far from the truth – and this film certainly didn’t have anything like the artistic qualities needed to justify so much make-believe. As so often with this sort of ‘entertainment’, the story as it really happened is more than exciting and interesting enough, and doesn’t need to be wildly exaggerated for extra effect. But when cinema becomes big business, every nail-biting setback miraculously overcome in the final seconds before disaster, every unexpected plot twist and every extra bit of ‘human interest’ which can be squeezed out of the story means more bums on seats and more cash in the till. And so what could have been an excellent film becomes yet another ‘movie’…

It’s certainly a very good thing that the story of Alan Turing is finally becoming widely known, including the details of what happened to him in his last few years. It’s amazing to think that only half a century ago, in the United Kingdom, they were trying to ‘cure’ homosexuals on the NHS, and ruining people’s lives in the process. That’s a story that needs to be told, and a glance through the comments on IMDb is enough to show that not everyone has understood it yet. Along with the many wildly enthusiastic comments and the justified praise for Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance, plus the many complaints about the film’s inaccuracy and the fact that the important Polish contribution to the project was entirely ignored, there is a small but noticeable minority of reviewers who were annoyed by the film’s (minimal) gay content. Apparently the trailer didn’t mention Turing’s homosexuality, and some viewers who obviously knew nothing about him and just expected an exciting war film about spies and code-breaking felt they’d been tricked into watching what they described as ‘gay propaganda’ and ‘promoting the homosexual agenda’. One person said they’d demanded their money back, and another informed us that “homosexuality, it clearly is a sin and should not be glorified”, providing a quote from the Bible to prove it! Yes, this is story which desperately needs to be told, and it deserves something better than The Imitation Game.

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Details:

title The Imitation Game
director Morten Tyldum
released 2014
actors Benedict Cumberbatch
language English
subtitles français
seen 10/04/2015, at the cinema
further information IMDb

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