Art & Culture

Two scenes that defined The Imitation Game for me

Vikram Johri
Vikram JohriJan 26, 2015 | 17:05

Two scenes that defined The Imitation Game for me

One of the highlights of the Oscar nominations for this year is the many nods that The Imitation Game has received. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley are nominated for playing Alan Turing and Joan Clarke, respectively. This is aside from nominations for Best Picture and Director.

The film is about Turing's work at Bletchley Park during World War II when he designed a machine that broke Enigma, the German naval code. As the movie informs us, Turing's effort is estimated to have shortened the war effort by two years and saved 14 million lives. Turing was assisted in his work by a ragtag bunch of mathematicians, including Joan.


Turing was gay, at a time when it was a crime to be homosexual in Britain. Director Morten Tydlum devotes nearly as much time delineating the horrors of the government policy towards homosexuals as he does to Turing's Bletchley achievement. Tydlum dovetails the paranoia surrounding homosexuality with the espionage carried out by members of the British foreign office to present a story that is both grim and profound.

Two scenes in particular stand out. One is from Turing's childhood, when he was at boarding school and in love with a classmate, Christopher. Christopher was Turing's only ally in school, saving him from bullies and getting him started on his love for puzzles. In class Turing would pass cryptic messages to Christopher who would joyously decode them. When Christopher does not return after a school break, Turing is called to the headmaster's room. There he is informed that Christopher has died of bovine tuberculosis.

We see the scene through the headmaster's eyes, as the camera focuses on the young Turing, played by an uncommonly good Alex Lawther. As the headmaster offers hollow words of comfort, we see Lawther splitting up inside, but unwilling to show his real feelings. It is this internalisation of never revealing his true self and always watching his back that comes to define Turing.


The other scene that stands out comes towards the end of the film. Turing has been charged with gross indecency with a man - the same crime Oscar Wilde was sent to prison for - but he has managed to avoid jail by agreeing to a government-sponsored chemical castration programme. Joan comes to visit him, and we see her after a long gap. She is now a proper lady with a fiancé and a steady job. We feel almost jealous of her on Turing's behalf until we remind ourselves that she was okay spending her life with Turing, in spite of his homosexuality, but it was Turing who had nudged her away. Now she comes to visit him, and a pall of tragedy hangs over this scene.

The scene, to me, was reminiscent of a similar scene that comes early on in the 2002 movie, The Hours. Clarissa (Meryl Streep) has come to visit Richard (Ed Harris) who is gay and dying of AIDS. Like Turing and Joan, Clarissa and Richard too have a past that allowed for romance and the possibility of happiness. However, life has not turned out as imagined for either couple. In the scene from Hours, Clarissa has come to remind Richard of the party in the evening which has been thrown in honour of a prize he has won for a recently published book.


Richard is grumpy; Clarissa checks if he has taken his medicines; he tells her that he can hear voices. He is, as the viewer will subsequently learn, setting the stage for killing himself. He will jump to his death from the window. That scene will come later in the evening when Clarissa comes to ready him for the party. But even presently, we can sense he has something planned. And it is this approaching sense of finality that gives the scene an understated glow. Richard speaks to Clarissa about their shared past and how wonderful they have been together. His saying that is strange because they have never been a couple - they could not have been one. But they have known one another their entire lives and now he wants her to let him go.

In The Imitation Game, Joan asks Turing to solve a puzzle to cheer him up. When he picks up a pen, he can't stop his fingers from twitching due to the hormones he is taking. "Maybe later," he tells Joan, heartbreakingly. They speak of this and that to pass the time but Joan can see that Turing will not keep choosing life for long. When he jokes to her about "the normal woman" she has finally become, she tells him:"No one normal could have done that [breaking the Enigma]. Do you know, this morning, I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn't exist if it wasn't for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn't for you. I read up on my way to work a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. Now, if you wish you could have been normal, I can promise you I do not."

Turing killed himself on June 17, 1954. In 2009, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the British government for the treatment meted out to him. In 2013, the Queen pardoned him posthumously for his conviction under gross indecency. If he were alive today, he would live in a very different, more open world.In the film, Turing christens the machine he designs to break the Enigma, Christopher.

Last updated: January 26, 2015 | 17:05
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