The Imitation Game

Now I have the right to write about The Imitation Game, which I saw in the theaters last night.

Spoiler alert.

images Those of you who read my post about Alan Turing will remember that I expected this portrayal to come across as Sherlock II, and I have to say it mostly did, except Cumberbatch makes Turing into a much more sympathetic character than Sherlock. Think: genius with Aspergers, add childhood bullying, subtract sociopath. I have to admit, I like Cumberbatch better as a “high-functioning sociopath.” And I highly doubt Turing was as socially clueless as he appears in the movie. I also suspect that he wasn’t as closeted a homosexual as the movie made him seem. Not to mention the feminist reinterpretation of Joan Clarke, a woman who was in reality described as  “subordinate to the men in her life.”

But I’m getting off on the wrong track here. So what if the movie’s not historically accurate? We all knew that. For a good critique of the film from the accuracy perspective, see this. The real question is, was it good?

Like the documentary, Codebreaker, I felt there was a lot of detail withheld about what exactly Turing accomplished…but Codebreaker actually did a better job in getting down to the nitty gritty. How did Turing and the crew at Bletchley Park crack the Enigma machine? We know he built some kind of gigantic computer with lots of reels spinning (who knew what these were for) and this computer was supposed to sift through millions of possible codes before the stroke of midnight, at which time it would have to start anew. There was a Hollywood “ah ha” moment in which the details of how the machine might work faster were sketchily drawn, and no more. I would have appreciated more. Of course, such technical detail could not be expected of this kind of film, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

The real disappointment set in when the philosophical stuff about AI was mostly disregarded. When it was addressed, it was totally flubbed. I actually did have high hopes that this aspect of the story would be competently developed, at least as much as Hollywood can do—somewhat along the lines of Her. But no.

In the movie, Turing names his computer Christopher, which suggests Turing saw potential to resurrect his childhood boyfriend as a computer mind. But it’s never made clear what Turing’s beliefs about AI were. Instead we get a few clumsy lines about different kinds of thinking, none of which made sense. This is too bad. There was a moment at the end when Turing reaches out for his computer adoringly, but this wasn’t enough for me. I needed to know why. I needed to see what Turing saw, beyond those clunky spinning reels.

The oddest thing was that Turing’s dramatic death was left virtually untouched. At the end of the movie, we find out that Turing committedUnknown suicide. This is not dramatized at all. No mention of the cyanide apple, even though cyanide was mentioned several times in the film as if to foreshadow the ending. Why the reluctance to use such rich, possibly real-life material? Well, here’s the reason why: It seemed melodramatic, goofy. Goofy? Okay, I can see why ending with a shot of an apple would seem goofy, but really? No way around that? Why not a flash forward into the future where we see everyone working on computers on which we notice a certain familiar logo? I understand that the focus of the movie was on his homosexual persecution rather than on his impact on computer science, but even so, what about the metaphorical significance of the death? Adam and Eve references! This was one of the few times when Hollywood could get away with melodrama…because it was true! How can so much wonderful material be left to, um, rot?

So on the whole, I’d say it’s worth the watch, especially in comparison to what’s out there, but somewhat disappointing. If you have no great desire to head to the theaters, wait for it to come out on DVD. Besides, you’ll get to miss the hoards of people driving around to return Christmas presents—another worthwhile reason to stay home. Trust me on this one. I had a crazy encounter at the mall with a woman who decided it was okay to strip naked in the ladies room to cleanse her privates in public. In full glory in front of a mirror too. And in front of the sink I needed to wash my hands. No more details, I promise. Just stay home this week.

Maybe real life is too dramatic to fictionalize. The truth: No one would believe it.

Have you seen this movie? Or Codebreaker? What did you think? 


How Not to Make a Gender Statement

1. The writer must make his gender statement.

2. The writer must make her gender statement.

3. The writer must make his/her gender statement.

4. The writer must make their gender statement.

5. As a writer, you must make your gender statement.

6. The writer must make hir gender statement.

Gender-neutral pronouns would be wonderful, but getting there requires changing the status quo, often while in the midst of making a point that has nothing to do with gender equality.

I tend to rebel against changing convention for this reason. I don’t want to be cloudy, making a point about gender equality when I’m not talking about gender equality.

But what is the convention?

Problems with each scenario:

  1. I use “his” the most, but I know I seem outdated or even misogynistic. It’s what I learned in school and I don’t have a problem with it. When I read “The writer must make his gender statement,” my attention is not called to the pronoun. I simply absorb the information in the sentence and move on. However, I realize that since this convention is changing, others might find the “his” antiquated and therefore distracting.

  2. “Her” seems overtly feminist. It strikes me as politically correct even now that it’s actually the norm. I find it distracting.

  3. “His/Her” seems more distracting than 2. because it’s ugly on top of being overtly feminist.

  4. Consider: “My teacher took their book out.” There’s no way to make sense of this sentence outside of context if we allow 4. to exist as a convention. “Their” doesn’t bother me in informal speech, in certain cases, but doesn’t seem proper in writing.

  5. “You” only works in second person. Fine for blog posts, not great when you’re writing an academic paper or fiction in 3rd person.

  6. I reserve this for special occasions, and this is one of those occasions: WTF? If I saw “hir” in writing, I would assume someone forgot to use “hir” spell check.

I usually restructure the sentence and leave out the pronoun altogether if I can. I don’t like any of these options. But the problem is broader and goes beyond pronouns.

My novel, Philosopher King, is about a typical philosophy teacher and his typical students, which means it is male-dominated. I consider this a reflection of reality, not a political statement. In fact, I didn’t think about gender when I wrote the first draft, I simply tried to stay true to my experiences. Someone in my writing group noticed the inequality and wondered if I should change a few male characters into female. I thought doing so would seem unrealistic, and would draw attention to itself. However, I’m waffling. If she thought about gender while reading my first draft, perhaps others will too. Apparently the gender issue is inescapable.

I don’t want to distract the reader. I’m feeling damned if I do, damned if I don’t. Should I change the gender of a couple of male characters in order to avoid raising eyebrows? Or should I stick to reality? Any suggestions?

How do you deal with gender when you don’t want to address gender?