Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Imitation Game; Spectrum Propaganda

The Imitation Game is propaganda for Hollywood’s current favourite disability, autism/Aspergers. Naturally, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch, who I can’t remember ever seeing playing anything else. I am getting over my ‘Batch crush; if he doesn’t play someone normal soon, I am going to write him off as a guy who’s exploiting other people’s disabilities.

Mandatory Bechdel test; failed, at level two; there are two named female characters, and they have a conversation, but it’s about trying to pull the man they’re looking at. Arguably failed at level one, since the main female character seems to have been dragged into the plot screaming and kicking so that the move could avoid dealing in any meaningful way with Alan Turing being gay. The Imitation Game handles teh ghey as though it had been made in the 1950s; yes, I suppose there is such a thing, and it’s awful the way people with it get treated, but for the love of god, don’t show us anything about it for fear the horses might take fright. I grump about this because the movie goes out of its way in its last few minutes to rant at the audience about how terrible state sanctions against homosexuals were in the 1950s. I can’t imagine that this is a lesson anyone in the audience needed.

Meanwhile, there’s a lesson for everyone in the audience about Alan Turing the visionary, the guy whose thinking about machine intelligence started us on the road to the world we live in today, blogs included. It’s a fascinating story, though the movie has nothing new to say about it; if there’s anything in the movie which comes as a surprise to you, it’s because you’re at a ‘Batch movie and you don’t even care what it’s about. 

Not that the ‘Batch is terrible; he never is. It’s just that if you’ve seen the ‘Batch before, this is what you’ve seen before. And if you know anything about Turing, you know everything in the movie. So you wind up having your fun with the side characters. Keira Knightley is never not fun, even if her character is there to keep everyone from having to think about, well, gayness. Charles Dance is his usual saturnine self. Mark Strong is huge fun as the head of MI6, effortlessly the smartest man in the room in a movie which is supposed to be about a completely different smartest man in the room.

Worst of all, if you know anything at all about Turing, or about Ultra, or about Bletchley Park, the way they try to dramatise the struggle to get the Bombe to work will just annoy you. There’s an epiphany about two thirds of the way through which turns on the concept of the “crib”; cracking a code by using the predictability of routine messages against the coder. This is not the stuff of visionary thinkers; it’s how they were trying to crack Enigma from day one. It’s how codes have been cracked since there WERE codes to crack.

And yes, I get that it’s hard to explain cyphers and mathematics and make it interesting, but there’s a moment in the movie which shows a real drama which they could have milked for tragedy of all kinds and built a whole movie out of; once the British cracked Enigma, they couldn’t risk using the knowledge for fear that the Germans would change the codes. For the rest of the war, the British had to decide which things they would let happen - killing hundreds and thousands of people - in order to preserve the advantage of knowing what the Germans were going to do next. That drama is wedged into the back third of the movie, crammed together with the miserable story of Turing’s last days, when either story would have carried a whole movie that would have needed no explanations of anything.

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