Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Imitation Game: Love and Death in the time of the Second World War!

When the Cambridge professor, with an exceptional talent at computing, is interrogated for an alleged “gross indecency” (the circumlocution for homosexuality), he asks:

So tell me what am I?
Am I machine am I a person?
Am I a war hero, am I criminal?

The interrogator does not have an answer and looks on flabbergasted at this fascinating mathematician who had dedicated his life to end the war. Sadness shows in his eyes, when the man is eventually charged of ‘indecency’ and put on hormonal therapy which would supposedly cure his homosexuality. He is indeed a war hero, who is labelled a criminal. The Enigma decrypting story and the man behind it remained in the dark for five decades: one of the most fiercely guarded secrets of the British government. What was made public instead was his ‘gross indecency’− he loved men!

Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is a tragic love story, the story of a man who names his machine after his lover Christopher, the machine that would change the world. Predominantly a thriller, the film while dramatising the historical decrypting of the Nazi Enigma code (that shortened the war by two years and saved approximately 14 million lives) by Alan Turing, delves into his personal life, his homosexuality, his love affair, and the agony of being different. Flashbacks of Turing’s school days, his torture at the hands of his classmates, his love for Christopher, and his introduction to the world of cryptography undercut Turing’s apparently successful life as a cryptanalyst. Unfortunately, his success remains unrecognised; instead he is marked out as a criminal, and given the choice of two year imprisonment or hormonal therapy by the same nation-state which should have been grateful for the service he rendered.  

Ironically, the film brings out the ‘gross indecency’ of the British nation, evident not only in its illegal probing into personal spaces of its citizens, but also in its unending injustice towards men who identified themselves as homosexuals (the terms gay or queer had not yet become fashionable, during the time this film is set). Around 49,000 people were charged of ‘gross indecency’ in Britain, under the anti-sodomy law, between 1885 and 1967. A law that caused Alan Turing’s suicide in 1954!

The film interestingly posits questions of masculinity and sexuality in the backdrop of World War II, a predominantly hypermasculine affair, in which real men participated. The Imitation Game remarkably problematises this category of ‘real men’, by crowning the state-identified ‘unmanly man’ the real hero. The film could easily be canonised as one of the most telling narratives of hidden lives of heroes, poets, and other high profile men, who had either been punished or forced to lead a masked life for decades, for ‘coming out’ could have spelt the end of life for them.

Although Turing was granted Royal pardon by Elizabeth II in 2013, thanks to the campaign initiated by Turing’s grand-niece and others, those other 49000 men and women have not been pardoned yet! Endorsing The Imitation Game, the Human Rights Campaign's Chad Griffith said, “Over 49,000 other gay men and women were persecuted in England under the same law. Turing was pardoned....others were not. Honor this movie. Honor this man. And honor the movement to bring justice to the other 49,000.” (The Hollywood Reporter)

Benedict Cumberbatch credibly brings out Turing’s vulnerabilities and eccentricities, his eyes speak with a rare intelligence and his body language articulates a curious mixture of confidence and helplessness. Mark Strong’s sternness, Keira Knightley’s radiance and Matthew Good’s amicable disposition make the characters extremely believable. Greyscale footages of the real war that intersperse the narrative attribute to the film the truthfulness of a documentary, despite its overarching fictional framework.

Although we now have the answers to all the questions that a visibly devastated Turing poses to the interrogator, the film closes with a profound sense of despondency, the agony that Turing died an unceremonious death that was grossly unjust!
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