[Note: This film contains some spoilers about the movie “The Imitation Game.”]
This film is testament to the extent to which one can have compassion on a tormented soul at the heart of a biographical film, appreciate the skill of filmmaking, and yet disagree profoundly with the obvious social message of the movie. At its heart, this is a complicated biography that seeks (like an Ayn Rand play I once read) to make the audience into the judge of Alan Turing similar to the police investigator who busts him for indecency but thinks there is a larger game afoot, like espionage. At the end, the police detective does not place a verdict on Turing, who was looking for someone to tell him what kind of person he was, and after a touching closing scene with his ex-fiance, the film closes with the text that talks about how many homosexuals were imprisoned in England, how Alan Turing committed suicide during his court-mandated hormone treatment, and how he was posthumously pardoned. All of this is clear cultural warfare at its least subtle.
The film itself is organized in a complicated way, with three plot lines intersecting across each other. The film opens in 1951, when the stonewalling of Manchester detectives who are there to investigate a break-in leads to a more formal police investigation to see what Turing is hiding. The film then jumps between the 1950’s, the 1900’s, when Alan is a lonely, bullied, and lovestruck student at an all boys school whose childhood love ends up dying of tuberculosis, leaving him lonely and embittered, and the 1940’s, where Turing leads an effort to break the Germans’ Enigma code, keep it secret that the code is broken, all while dealing with complicated personal drama. In what must be one of the most unlucky breaks ever, Alan confesses the secret of his sexuality to one of his colleagues who happens to be a Russian spy, and then in one of the most spectacular acts of self-sabotage ever, he ruins the potential of a marriage with a woman willing to put up with his issues openly because he is too afraid to let anyone into his lonely life, which leads him to live isolated except for the occasional payments for male hookers that leave him open to being busted on sex crimes.
In watching this film, it is hard not to be sympathetic for Turing, who despite crippling social anxieties and some major issues stemming from abuse suffered from peers during his childhood, and the homosexual longings prompted at least in part by the fact that he seems to have been absolutely starved for affection and somewhat deeply tied to those who first gave it, guys not unlike himself, happened to be an intensely bright if prickly person. His genius for keeping secrets exposed him to blackmail and made him feel monstrous in the moral choices made during WWII. A dark and cynical view about morality left him adrift in a world where his sexuality made him a target for legal action, and where his refusal to live openly and accept the consequences of it left him in despair and without a firm moral anchor, and also left him alone. As much sympathy as one feels for him, it is easy to see that his refusal to exercise restraint in the knowledge of risk and his belief that his intellect made him above the law ultimately proved fatal.
There are a lot of ironies about this film. One of them is that the film demonstrates examples of divine providence from people who appear not to have been particularly appealing or religious. Turing’s character at one point says that God didn’t win WWII even as the insight needed to crack the German code came about as a result of providence, albeit well-prepared. Turing would have been far better served to accept a marriage with the bright and unconventional woman he had a chance with rather than to leave himself isolated and alone and vulnerable to his own lusts. Yet people who struggle with their dark demons often do not give due credit to God and often act in ways that leave themselves vulnerable to exploitation by those who are even more wicked. Far from being a good war, WWII was fought with a great deal of corruption on both sides, and this movie, in seeking to show the morally dark nature of WWII and the lack of patriotism of Turing, can only seek to make him worthy of forgiveness for his abrasiveness and sin by appealing to the very sort of “good war” myths it debunks, for without a sense of patriotism and a clear favoritism for Allied victory as opposed to the horrors of Nazi victory, there is no reason to judge Turing as worthy of forgiveness for having served such an important, albeit hidden, role in that victory. Oh, the irony.