Overall, I’m relieved The Imitation Game is a reasonably good film, I was so worried. I think that turning it into a conventional war thriller was basically the right choice, it kind of works in dramatic terms, or at least it works as a red carpet machine. I also liked that a point was made, very quietly but very clearly, that Turing homosexuality was not a problem for him, it was a problem for stupid society.
On the other hand, all the historical inconsistencies kept on distracting me. I totally understand they were brought in to make the narrative more effectual, but this works better with someone who’s not familiar with Turing at all, and anyway the questions raised were probably too many.
– can machines think like humans?
– can outsiders and outcasts change history? – can a body be artificial?
– can someone apparently on the autistic spectrum make friends and be respected by peers?
– nobody really understand what people in IT do for a living, how do they feel?
At this point I want to read Hodge’s book again because I’m doubting my own memory. Turing personally recruiting Joan Clarke in a rather unconventional way? Turing being the head of a small crucial team at Bletchey Park with direct interaction with MI6? Turing talking with Cairncross about Soviet Union? Turing calling the Bombe Christopher?!?!?! Honestly, that was creepy.
As for the questions raised by the film, it’s not that they’re completely out of place. The problem of self-awareness in machines has long been debated in science-fiction, but that’s because when you have a self-aware machine in science fiction then it’s cognitive estrangement for human nature. But in IT you’re not really interested in making machines self-aware, what you’re trying to do is to make them perform human tasks, and by performing those human tasks they will look self-aware. Making a machine simulate human behaviour is a functional goal, rather than a philosophical one. So it’s a bit creepy that we’re made to believe that Turing was trying to recreate Christopher, and that he was keeping in the basement an artificial Christopher he would not part from. First of all Turing will be the first to tell you that the point is not that of creating self-aware machine, secondly the interaction between physical and artificial body is far more complicated than that, especially in post-modernism.
So what do people in IT actually do? Well, it could be classified. And they generally feel frustrated because their progresses are agonizingly slow and they would rather you kept away, unless you’re willing to clean the room, this film captured that very cleverly. And can outsiders and outcasts change the world? Of course they can, we’ve all seen more than a few Hollywood movies. We really could have done without the catchphrase here. Also, can someone on the autistic spectrum make friends and be respected? Of course they can, but please stop popularizing this idea that all IT people are aspies and all aspies are geniuses, it really does not work like that, we’ve had enough. Well, at least they ditched that horrible refrigerator mother theory.
Years ago I read a book about Turing where his obsession for Disney’s Snow White was analyzed in depth. I see that here the apple thing was made into a harmless joke and it’s ok, the Snow White thing is actually a bit disturbing. But I can’t avoid thinking how a less conventional film about Turing could have been. I would have kept Cumberbatch of course, I would have kept the entire cast actually. But the script would have been historically accurate, no catchphrases, no heroes, more Snow White, a lot more Morcom. A more compact, subdued narrative, where Turing’s mind would emerge quietly. Yes, more like Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy, or Another Country.
Anyway, the rotors were cool, and the shorts were very Chariots of Fire.