Saturday, January 24, 2015

THE IMITATION GAME

Uni and I just saw the movie by this name.  It tells the story of Alan Turing, who was undoubtedly one of the greatest mathematical minds who ever lived.  But his story is not merely the dull story of a brilliant mathematician; it is the story of a man who is credited with saving millions of lives and bringing WWII to a close two years earlier than it might have been.

Along with other men of genius, Turing was recruited by British intelligence to crack Enigma, the German code, which changed daily.  The main body of the movie tells the story of his struggles with his superiors and co-workers in his plan to build a computing machine that could accomplish this task.  Of course, as is well known, he did just that; his "Turing Machine," as it came to be known - a monstrous device with whirring wheels and gears - cracked the code and became the ancestor of our modern computers.

This, however, is only one part of his story.  The movie actually begins in the 1950's with a police investigation into a robbery that occurs in the home of the eccentric professor, which uncovers some strange secrets.  Turing's life and struggles are shown through a series of flashbacks, not only to his work during WWII, but also to his preteen experiences in an all-male boarding school.

Alan Turing as played sympathetically by Benedict Cumberbatch, comes across as an odd, antisocial eccentric.  Though a brilliant mathematician, cryptanalyst and logician, he has no social skills.  He seems unable to understand normal human communication.  And we find out through the three parallel tales that he is a homosexual.  As a preteen in the boarding school, he is mocked and harassed by his fellow students simply for being "different," and he turns in love to his friend Christopher - the only person who understands him.

The police investigation ultimately reveals his condition and Turing is arrested as a pervert under the existing British laws of his day.  Apparently no consideration was given to his heroic acts during the war; they had never been made public.  At the close we see him as a confused sickly man, no longer able to function, alone with his beloved machine, which he knows as Christopher.  He was being chemically castrated - a choice forced on him as an alternative to prison.  A note at the bottom of the screen tells us that he committed suicide shortly thereafter.  And another note tells us that years later he was posthumously pardoned by the Queen.

As Uni and I drove home still wiping tears from our eyes, we both agreed that this was a great, though tragic story.  I even mentioned that this was a genuine tragedy in the same sense as the Greek and Shakespearean tragedies; it contained all the required elements.  Just to be sure, when I got home I looked up "Tragedy" in my old copy of The Reader's Companion to World Literature (1956, 1973, The New American Library).  It is described there as "a type of drama in which the chief character undergoes a morally significant struggle which ends disastrously. ... In Greek tragedy (and in most great tragedies written since) the hero is essentially a superior person and is treated sympathetically; his destiny or choice is to go down fighting rather than submit, and thus to pluck a moral victory from a physical defeat.  The hero's recognition of his role and his acceptance of his destiny constitutes the climax of the tragic structure.  His 'tragic flaw,' as Aristotle calls it, is some defect which helps to involve him in ruin, for the spectacle of entirely undeserved suffering would be merely depressing. ...  Ironically, the noblest efforts of the hero involve him in guilt and lead to his misery.  The struggle may be between one character and conflicting forces which he can in no way control.  In the greatest tragedies, however, there is also conflict within the character himself ..." (pages 529-30).  This description is an almost perfect fit with Turing's story as presented in the movie.

I suppose some of my evangelical Christian friends would moralize.  They might see this movie as advocating homosexual behavior.  I admit that I had a bit of that fear myself before I saw the movie.  It doesn't!  In fact, the only sexual reference that I found offensive was a crude heterosexual joke told by one of Turing's co-workers.  I believe that this little bit was added to show how Turing was totally oblivious to the meaning of this type of humor.  No, the movie doesn't advocate homosexuality any more than Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus the King advocates incest.  Nor for that matter, are the countless biblical tales of rape, incest and murder, advocating these acts!

I believe that this movie is the type of movie Christians should see.  It takes us outside of our box and shows us the struggles and feelings of some of our fellow fallen human beings and should arouse empathy rather than condemnation.  And it should also arouse compassion for those who are "different."

To use Aristotle's words, it should be a "catharsis," causing us to "thrill with horror and melt with pity."  And it'll give you a good cry.

2 comments:

John Kulp said...

I saw the movie this past weekend and also left in tears.

It is beguilingly easy to judge coldly in black and white when that judgment is only an intellectual concept or a theoretical position. In the real world with real people it is a very different thing, especially for those who see others with the eyes of love described in I Corinthians 13.

I think this is the message of the story of the healing of the blind man in John Ch. 9. The accusation of the Pharisees that Jesus had violated the Sabbath was legally correct. He had mixed saliva and dust to make wet clay, picked it up, and moulded it over the man's eyes to heal him. What the Pharisees could not see in their spiritual blindness was that the man was more important than the commandment. The Sabbath was created for man. Man was not created for the Sabbath.

"The Imitation Game" renewed my understanding of that concept by helping me see the man, not just his weaknesses, and care about him. That renewed understanding of the message of Jesus in John Ch. 9 brought me to tears.

Bill Ball said...

Thanks John.