The movie The Imitation Game has received more than a hundred major nominations, including Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for the lead actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, as well as a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Best Picture of the year.
And I think the recognition is merited; it is an amazing movie.
More than that, it’s a story that needs to be told.
Before we went to see the movie, I knew a little about Alan Turing, the subject of this biographical film. I knew that he was considered the father of modern computers, I knew he worked in cryptography, and I knew he was gay.
I’m ashamed to admit there’s so much more that I didn’t know!
I was fascinated at the story of Turning and his team’s work to break the German code, in order to bring the Second World War to swift close. Without the help of modern technology, they built a “computer” to decipher it.
Now it saddens me that his life, his work and his contributions are largely unknown by the general population...particularly since we enjoy a freedom that he helped achieve and we daily use electronic devices that trace their origin back to his work.
I was distressed when I learned that after his successful decryption, which was estimated to have saved millions of lives and helped end the war, he was convicted in 1952 of...being a homosexual.
Clarification: The actual crime was “Gross Indecency,” which had nothing to do with a specific action, or being caught in a lewd act. It was a conviction that came from what's known as the Labouchère Amendment. Unlike previous British laws against homosexual behavior, this new provision did not require evidence of actual (penetrative) sex for prosecution. Thousands were tried and convicted (e.g., Oscar Wilde) while many chose suicide over arrest and exposure
Obviously I can’t relate to that kind of mistreatment, and it wasn't this aspect of the movie that brought my unexpected response. Living in America in the 21th Century affords me somewhat greater freedom of expression. However, I do understand the challenges of an oppressive society. While things have changed significantly in this country, many people can still lose their jobs, or be denied housing, just for being gay. Regrettably, we have those religious extremists who want to restore imprisonment and harsh treatments for homosexuals, and even more regrettable, some of them are regularly elected to public office.
In the final scene of the movie, one of the colleagues from the code-breaking team comes to visit, and we see a different Turing now. His movements are slow, and appear painful. His hands shake, and he is unfocused, distracted. He refuses the chance to work on a puzzle, which was once his passion; we get the clear impression that he doesn’t think he can do it. He seems depressed. He is hyper-emotional.
As the film “fades to black,” words on the screen tell us that in order to avoid prison, Turing had agreed to chemical castration, which was supposed to rid him of the deviant desires that apparently made him a menace to British society.
And we are told he committed suicide.
It was in that moment I connected with this man.
I began to cry.
While the credits rolled, I tried to compose myself.
As the title of this entry states, my reaction was unexpected. And it’s because I know firsthand some of what he might have experienced in those last days of his life. Chemical Castration is cruel. And using it to “cure” a person’s homosexuality is barbaric. But for those who might not know, it is still used today to treat Prostate Cancer, and I am currently undergoing this form of treatment.
So, yes...watching that last scene felt eerily familiar.
And it made me so sad for him.
I understand the pain just to walk across the room. I know what it’s like to try and un-jumble the swirling in my head. I could once write pages of material quickly, with little difficulty (it’s how I made my living); now I struggle to maintain focus. One blog entry can now take days to compose, and often writing is not possible. For many years, I was a Bible teacher and public speaker, now I have incidents where I can’t remember simple, everyday words. I know the desperate, dark thoughts that can haunt the mind. I’ve had those times when intense and uncontrollable emotions surge up and overwhelm me—depression, anger, sadness, self-pity.
What he went through was horrific; it's beyond my imagination and completely outside my own personal experience. His punishment was abusive, inhumane and assaulting. At least my treatments are about a disease; his were intended to attack the very core of who he is. And his suicide, like any who’ve made this choice, is tragic and heart-wrenching. I wonder what additional contributions his brilliant talent could have made to the the world.
My situation is different than his, and I do know that. (I'm not a self-absorbed jerk!) But as the movie ended, there was a kinship—a bond forged in pain that crossed time and impacted me in that dark theater. I hurt for him, and I hurt with him. I definitely understand some of what happened to his body in those final years.
And I was surprised at the intensity of my empathetic reaction.
Even as I write this, the tears are again flowing.