“The Imitation Game” – Imitating Oppositionality, Sincere Critique, or Both?

Movie Review Blog

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Background of the film: Based on a true story and its accompanying novel, The Imitation Game (2014) is about British efforts to crack Germany’s “Enigma” code during World War II, which Germany uses to communicate their military strategies and combat plans. The main character, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), is a mathematician that is hired by the British government to work on a secret project to break the Enigma code so that the Allies will know when and where German attacks will be.

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An ad with a crossword puzzle is placed in the paper to attract people who are good at solving puzzles. Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) is the only female who is able to solve the puzzle in less than the allotted time. Alan doesn’t work well with others, so he and his male colleagues disagree on almost everything. Alan and Joan become friends, however, when she is excluded from the Enigma project because she is a woman but Alan secretly brings her information on the project.

Alan has the brilliant idea to build a machine that will decode each day’s Enigma codes, which are reset each night at midnight, using predicted key words. Right as Alan and his team are about to solve Enigma, the team finds out that there is a spy amongst them who could tip off Germany about British efforts to solve Enigma and ruin all of their progress. Joan and Alan get married so that she can continue working on Enigma, but we find out before their marriage that Alan is gay.

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In the end, the team breaks the Enigma code and substantially reduces the length and deaths of World War II and ensures the success of the Allies. Alan is outed as gay and is forced to take hormones to “cure” his homosexuality, which he does so that he can stay with the machine he built to crack Enigma (which he named after his childhood best friend/love interest, Christopher). The hormones mess with Alan’s head, and he becomes extremely depressed and commits suicide.

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Morten Tyldum is the director of The Imitation Game, and the writers include Graham Moore and Andrew Hodges (who wrote the book). The genre of the film is listed as biography, drama, and thriller, which the plot, characters, technology, and set all remain true to genre conventions wise. For example, as a biography/drama/thriller, the scenes are dark, the music dictates how you’re supposed to feel, and the producers did a great job recreating Britain during WWII (see movie trailer above for more examples). As we can see inThe Imitation Game, the film makes a good effort in pushing back against some hegemonic ideology but falls short and even reinforces hegemonic ideology in many ways as well. Because of these shortcomings, the film could be read from various standpoints, from hegemonic to oppositional to queer to negotiated.

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Analysis of the film: All of the main characters in the The Imitation Game were white male intellectuals from presumably middle-to-upper class backgrounds, besides for the sole female lead character of Joan, who was also white. All of the main characters are marked as heterosexual besides Alan, who is explicitly marked as queer in the movie (his queerness, in all its forms, is main part of plot). However, as Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin explain in the introduction to Queer Cinema, the Film Reader, “Queer moviegoers also decoded classical Hollywood films in ways that often went beyond (and sometimes against) what their makers explicitly intended, a subcultural reception strategy known as camp that developed within the era’s urban queer communities. Camp was a means of queering heterocentrist film culture, and it both celebrated and satirized Hollywood films and their ‘larger-than-life’ characters and situations” (7). The Imitation Game could definitely be read as queer, even if we weren’t explicitly told that the Alan, the male protagonist, was gay. For example, flashbacks to Alan’s childhood show him at an all-boys boarding school with his best friend Christopher. The other boys pick on Alan because he’s different, but he and Christopher have a very close friendship. Similarly, while Alan is being interrogated by the detective in the opening scene and throughout the film, he uses what could be read as queer sexual innuendo while talking to discussing Enigma and “how to play the game”.

Joan’s character, although explicitly marked heterosexual, could also be read as queer – Joan is only allowed to live and work with other unmarried women for most of the movie. Furthermore, because the film takes place during WWII, homosexuality was illegal and women were still discriminated in employment at this time, which is why Joan couldn’t officially work with Alan and his team on Enigma. Although The Imitation Game does a good job showing Joan’s intelligence and ability to “keep up” with Alan and the other (male) team members, she is still depicted in a postfeminist way. Although The Imitation Game hints at gender inequalities throughout the film as the reason for my Joan is not allowed to work with Alan and his team on the Enigma project and why she just live with other women she doesn’t know, Joan is cast in a way that paints her as an exceptional woman rising above the sexist WWII society in which she lives. As Rosalind Gill points out in Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility, “One aspect of this postfeminist sensibility in media culture is the almost total evacuation of notions of politics or culture influence. This is seen…in the ways in which every aspect of life is refracted through the idea of personal choice and self-determination” (153). Although many of the characteristics of postfeminism don’t directly apply to Joan’s character and the story does not take place in modern-day, we have to keep in mind that The Imitation Game was written, cast, and produced in our current “postfeminist” society.

Furthermore, Joan always performs “proper femininity,” which we can see in the way she acts, dresses, speaks, etc., and the male characters (besides Alan, but even he does sometimes) always perform “proper masculinity” in the way they show emotion (through anger), dress, interact with one another, etc. Sexuality and gender are just two of the many identities that I could have chosen to talk about in my analysis of The Imitation Game. For example, the fact that there are no memorable scenes depicting people of color; or that homosexuality was viewed during this time as a “mental illness” that could be “cured” or “treated” with hormones and other medications; or that all of the characters are well-educated and clearly middle-to-upper class; or the depiction of Germany and Russia as ruthless, the enemy, the Other and Britain, the U.S., and its Allies as victims of an unwanted war in which they end up as saviors. In any case, you get my point – there’s A LOT I could’ve chosen to unpack in this movie.

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Public cinema experience: Because the movie was shown at Coffman Memorial Union on campus, most of the movie-goers were college students. There were a couple of older folks sprinkled throughout the audience, including one man who I expect was homeless. The theater was pretty full, so although people don’t usually sit right next to each other unless they came together, there were few open seats. Most people came with groups of friends and talked amongst their friend group before the movie began, besides for the couple of older adults (probably professors, staff, etc.) that came alone. The atmosphere and experience during this movie was pretty standard – the audience was focused on the movie, they laughed when they were supposed to laugh, there was that one person (like always) that forgot to turn their cell phone off before the movie started, the people who showed up ten minutes into the movie, etc.

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The space: The film was shown at Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, which is pretty much a neighborhood in and of itself. The University campus/neighborhood is definitely representative of middle-to-upper class values, so there are a lot of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and retail stores like CVS, Walgreens, and Target that make up the neighborhood surrounded by plenty of over-priced student housing. Coffman Union itself is very college-y in it’s design and purpose since it is the main student union on the U of M campus and includes a lot of study space, a bookstore, restaurants, a convenience store, IT/technology help, etc.

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The economics: Because the showing of The Imitation Game was hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Student Unions & Activities group (SUA), the film was free and open to the public. There is a concession stand that you must pass to get to the theater, and you definitely are encourage to buy food and drinks based on the placement of the concession stand and the display of various food and drinks (and their accompanying smells, colors, etc.). You literally can’t get into the theater without walking past the concession stand, which smells of buttery popcorn and catches your eye with it’s brightly-colored boxes of candy.

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Collective film watching experience: I definitely think I would have reacted differently at the movie theater than if I had watched The Imitation Game in the privacy of my own home. I sometimes get extremely restless during movies that are longer than an hour and a half, which happened to me during this film because it’s runtime is 114 minutes. Although I enjoyed The Imitation Game overall, if i had watched the film in my own home, I probably would’ve paused it and taken a break or stopped watching it altogether about ¾ of the way through. The plot advances too slowly in some parts of the film, so that was particularly frustrating to me and made my restlessness worse. I went to the movie with my friends Mira and Sydney and my friend that was visiting me for the weekend from Duluth, Kaytlynn. As I said before, the audience was pretty predictable – we laughed when we were supposed to, we gasped when we were supposed to, and multiple people got up to use the restroom or get a drink during random parts of the movie. One thing I think was unique to this movie was the amount of sexual comments about Benedict Cumberbatch from the audience about his goods looks and “sexy voice,” mostly from females (see video below for potential reasoning)…

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Works Cited

Benshoff, Harry, and Sean Griffin. “General Introduction.” Introduction. Queer Cinema, the Film Reader. Ed. Harry Benshoff and Sean Griffin. New York: Routledge, 2004. 1-15. Print.

Gill, Rosalind. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10.147 (2007): 147-66. Print.

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