For all of the distinctly drawn period piece-ness of The Imitation Game, with its English rain, tweeds, tea and understated heroism and humor, the film holds bracingly modern themes that make it both mainstream and groundbreaking in its portrayal of the life of one gay man.
This story of British mathematician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist Alan Turing who played a key role in cracking Nazi Germany's Enigma code is a fresh take on what it means to be a homosexual when you're also smarter than everyone else and have the skills to end a world war.
Contemporary issues like Aspergers, bullying, discrimination, violence and women's rights and oh, a little thing like the discovery of computers crowd the gay rights story here but by no means overshadow its subtle theme of strength and dignity for the LGBT community and the world at large.
Alan Turing is presented in The Imitation Game as a difficult hero whose homosexuality informs but does not define him and indeed helps him become one of those people who no one imagines anything of who does the things no one can imagine.
I recently interviewed The Imitation Game's co- producer Nora Grossman and screenwriter Graham Moore:
Nancy Doyle Palmer: Nora, talk about this idea of making this film both historical and timely.
Nora Grossman: When we were first were developing this screenplay we were very concerned with making this NOT your traditional bio-pic - not a sort of Merchant-Ivory period piece - and that was a guiding factor when we were developing the project. This was a sort of gay rights movie but also a thriller, Turing was the father of computer science and a gay man - so we wanted to draw on all the facets of this life to appeal to modern audiences - as well as World War Two enthusiasts, computer theorists, gay advocates - all kinds of people.
NDP: Were there discussions going into this on how much to emphasize his sexuality?
NG:That Alan Turing was a gay man is a very important part of his story - but he was also a code-breaker and a mathematician. We were trying to fit all of this into a two hour movie - especially since this is a movie that revolves around Turing's time during the war at Bletchley Park , and while he did confide with some of his friends about being a homosexual he himself later described the place as a 'sexual desert.'
NDP: There has been some criticism of the lack of any sexual scenes between Turing and other men.
NG: The period we focused on was during the war and it just didn't feel organic to include a sex scene with so much else to show. It would have felt forced.
Graham Moore: This was a film about love, not a film about sex - and Alan Turing's love for Christopher is fundamental to his life. Alan fell in love with Christopher Morcom when he was a teenager and it was the great love of his life - I don't think he ever fell in love again, really, and we wanted to show how fundamental that relationship was to him. I think Christopher the person and Christopher the machine are really the sort of second character in the movie. Alan fell in love with Christopher when he was a teenager - Christopher died very suddenly and Alan spent the rest of his life writing about Christopher, talking to his friends about Christopher, in fact he wrote letters to Christopher's family for the rest of his life.
There was no other relationship that he ever had that got close to that.
NDP: So this love for another man informed him, and his work?
GM: One of the things we wanted to show is that for Turing his experience as a gay man in Britain at that time was foundational to his mathematical, his philosophical work, his computer work. He was an outsider - he was outside the societal mainstream -he had these ideas that no one else had.
And when we talk about the Imitation Game itself -- which in a nutshell is Alan's idea that we are only what we can convince someone else that we are -- we are human to the degree that we can convince someone else that we are human -- and I think for a statement like that to come from a closeted gay man in Britain in the 1930s - it was so foundational to his theoretical and mathematical work and that was what we were trying to show in the film.
NDP: Before I saw The Imitation Game I expected to see an element of shame or humiliation in Turing's revelation of or persecution for being gay and it just wasn't there - talk about that?
GM - Something that we all loved about Turing as a character was that he felt no shame about his sexuality whatsoever. Turing had such a logical mind, he was such a mathematician at heart, for him, sexuality was just like any other preference. You like chocolate, I like vanilla, you like girls, I like boys - it was just like logical like any other preference , any other taste, and he couldn't see why one set of preferences would be more moral than any other set of preferences. So in the film yes, he did tell people he was close to about his sexuality but at the same time he knew he had to keep it from the wider world because he was living in a time where his sexuality was literally illegal.
NDP: At the end of the film as he looks back on what his life had become there was no sense of bitterness or regret for any of his choices - just this continued feeling of isolation , but not of persecution.
GM: When Alan Turing was on trial for 'gross indecency' he admitted to the facts but he still plead not guilty - he said 'yes you're right about the fact, I did have sex with another man, that did happen, but I'm still not guilty'. He was so defiant about it and I love that about him.
NDP: Just as seeing Selma is important for younger African Americans to see what their grandparents and great-grandparents went through in the 1960s, The Imitation Game is showing younger gay men and women what homosexuals endured in the not so distance past. While no one makes a movie to simply to make these kind of social statements can you talk about a sort of instructional quality to this film for a younger generation?
GM: When we look at prejudice that certain groups have received in the past we usually talk about it in terms of individual acts of prejudice, individual acts of homophobia, individual acts of racism, but one of the things that was so interesting about this story was in Alan's character and in the character of Joan Clarke whom Keira Knightley plays - they both faced this sort of institutional sexism. These aren't characters who are facing and prevailing against specific individual acts of homophobia and persecution - it was at an institutional level. Gay men were institutionally discriminated against in Britain at the time, just as women were institutionally discriminated against. As were -- and are -- African Americans in the United States. Bigotry is frequently depicted on screen as the product of a few bad apples; but I think that's inaccurate. What we were trying to show is that bigotry is the product of many apples, good and bad, acting on an institutional level.