Tweaking the Truth: The Imitation Game and its Historical Inaccuracy

Movie Review Blog

The gross income of this movie, as of April 2015, is $91,020,367. If this story were simply about a man and his team taking on an unbreakable Nazi code, it would still make bank. However, the most intriguing facet of this text is Turing’s history, and how his sexuality affected him throughout his life.

This biography/drama was directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore and Andrew Hodges. The talented Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, a mathematician tasked with breaking the Enigma code that the Nazis used to encrypt messages during World War II. Keira Knightley stars as Joan Clarke, a gifted woman who is recruited to join the team created in order to crack the Enigma code. The Imitation Game is a biographical text that has provided readers with an important story, but the historical inaccuracies keep the text from critical representations from taking place.

I went to Coffman a few weekends ago to see The Imitation Game. I had heard great things about it online and from friends, so I decided to use it as the text for this blog post. I went with a friend, who mainly came along because the movie was free. (College students can sense any free events within a five-mile radius.) The theater was packed, not to my surprise. I never buy snacks at Coffman because they are overpriced and require either Gopher Gold or cash, neither of which I usually have or carry with me. I make my grandmother proud and smuggle pop and candy in via a large purse. Anyways.

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The protagonist, Turing, is an antisocial fellow who, in the beginning of the film, not only actively distances himself from his colleagues, but goes over his boss’ head to Winston Churchill in order to take control of the project, specifically to gain more funding and fire two of his team members. He is a gifted cryptologist who believes he has the solution to Enigma – a machine built to crack the code, rather than by translating messages by trial and error day after day. He names the machine Christopher.

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            In the movie, Joan Clarke joined the team because she responded to an ad in the paper, which included an extremely difficult crossword puzzle. There is no mention of her education. In reality, Clarke knew Turing from Cambridge, where she studied mathematics. She was hired at Bletchley Park and then promoted because she was skilled – not because Turing gave her a chance. Although Clarke is an important character in the movie, it does not pass the Bechdel test.

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         In the film, Turing proposed to Clarke to appease her parents, and later in the film, he reveals to her that he is homosexual in an attempt to protect her from Soviet spies. In reality, he proposed to her because they simply enjoyed each other’s company, and the next day, he confides in her that he had “a homosexual tendency.” To hear about the proposal in Clarke’s words, follow the link:

https://youtu.be/MB2e9R7bXCk

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           Turing did not singlehandedly crack Enigma, nor was the team working in Bletchley Park comprised of only the few that were depicted. There were more women on the team, which gives the creators of the text no reason to include only Clarke and not pass the Bechdel test.

            In Bernshoff and Griffin’s Queer Cinema, the history of the stigma of homosexuality in the twentieth century is discussed. They state, “Homosexuality was considered a shameful, distasteful thing. Religions often condemned it as a sin, medical and psychological institutions considered it an illness, and the law declared it illegal. People could be and were sentenced to prison for being homosexual, as was the playwright Oscar Wilde” (Bernshoff and Griffin 3).

This part of history was portrayed as well as one could hope. A young love story between Turing and his childhood friend, Christopher, develops in a series of flashbacks. Turing was relentlessly bullied at school for his OCD tendencies and idiosyncrasies, but Christopher was his saving grace. Young Alan Turing is shown holding an encrypted note with the message “I love you” while waiting for Christopher to return from school holiday. He never shows up, and Turing learns in the headmaster’s office that Christopher had bovine tuberculosis and had passed away.

Two boys in love. A gay boy bullied for being himself. These are both important representations – the creators of this film created a space for homosexual men and boys to identify with a protagonist.

At the end of the film, Turing is sentenced for “indecency” AKA homosexuality. Turing was given an ultimatum – go to prison or take hormonal treatments. At the time, “it was believed that men who were sexually attracted to other men were actually female souls trapped in male bodies,” so Turing took weekly estrogen injections (Bernshoff and Griffin 3).

The film leads the audience to believe that Turing names his machine after Christopher, even clinging to the idea of him until his suicide. However, there is no evidence to support this. This makes Turing appear weak, ill, and almost crazed mainly due to his lost love, and not because of the turmoil that the government-mandated chemical castration was causing. Turing.

The experience at the theater was an average one – laughs at the funny parts, silence during the sad. The movie was a bit quiet at times, especially given the different accents in the film. All in all, I enjoyed the text, but a quick look into the story that it was based on left me disappointed with what could have been. What if Clarke could have been represented more accurately, as a woman with much more agency and intelligence? What if Turing was portrayed as a team player, than as the off-putting loner he wasn’t? I believe that the inaccuracies in this film take away the agency of the characters, and leave a legacy that is only an imitation of the incredible people themselves.

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