January 31, 2015
Rundle on The Imitation Game:
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Turing is arrogant, aloof and quick with a putdown. He delights in making his colleagues feel stupid, and in making his superiors guess his actions. He’s bitchy and cute. He sees the war as a bore, a problem to be solved, not a moral-political-national struggle.Et cetera
None of this accords with anyone’s memory of Turing, but it matches a set of cliches, that of the mid-century capital-H homosexual. ‘Turing’ is, put simply, queenish. The film has simply decided that a certain cultural style of being homosexual can be used to construct Turing’s whole character.
[T]he Colossus computer came along when the Engima code had been largely decrypted. Though it was built to Turing’s design, its true architect was Tommy Flowers, the head radio engineer at the GPO research unit, the person charged with building the thing. A working-class boy apprenticed to the GPO at 13, Flowers had the key insight, that ‘Colossus’ should have stored programmes – that is, that the various things a computer did shouldn’t have to be reloaded afresh each time. That is the computer: the thing I’m writing this on, the thing you’re reading it on.
Flowers and his team worked hundred hour weeks for eleven months to build Colossus. He and they appear nowhere in the film.
Instead, we get Turing alone in a shed at Bletchley, putting Colossus together by hand. When the code is cracked, it’s all at once – and they suddenly know the position of every U-boat in the Atlantic. The analogy is obvious, especially if you’ve seen The Social Network: it’s Alan Turing as a proto-Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, and Bletchley Park as the first start-up, the ancestor of Apple and Facebook. The effect is to attribute all heroic power to the genius with the one big idea, rather than the masses.
[T]he weirdest thing about the portrayal of Turing in the film... [is that i]t can’t cope with the full complexity of his sexuality, which shifted over his life, and which we would now call ‘queer’*. Mostly sexually inactive through shyness in the 30s, he made clear his ‘tendencies’ to Clarke when they became engaged; she said it didn’t matter much to her. He expressed a desire for family and children. Through the prism of post-Stonewall essentialist ideas of sexuality you could call that sexual false consciousness. But you could also suggest that the film’s transformation of a real engagement into a sham one is an attempt to impose a highly specific idea of sexuality onto the past, one in which one has to be true to a deep and singular sexuality.
* Oh, right - so when used in LGBTQI it doesn't mean "gay and with a PhD". I did wonder.