History of computers, LGBT issues, and World War II. Obviously, the Imitation Game is a movie that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve seen it three times by now, but of course, I can’t share my love for this movie with just anyone in my real life.
I had decided when I first heard it was going to be out in theaters that it was a movie I needed to see. I considered going to see it in theaters, but it didn’t release in my city right away. I thought it wouldn’t be coming to little conservative Bible belt city at all, but I discovered too late that I was wrong. It did come to my city, but I missed it. Alas. I would have to wait until it was released on iTunes.
I take a flight overseas with some people from my conservative work environment (read anti-gay) about once a year. Long overseas flights means time for movies and napping. I was delighted this year to discover that the Imitation Game was available on the in-flight entertainment system. I was sitting next to a super conservative older guy I work with, but he was trying to sleep, and it’s hard to see what’s on someone else’s screen from that angle. I figured it would be safe and if it got graphically homosexual in content, I would turn it off.
I didn’t expect it to make me cry.
I’ve always known that Alan Turing was the father of Computer Science. I’ve never taken a formal course in the history of computer science, and most references to him involve the Turing test and don’t include biographical details. I now know that a lot of details were intentionally eliminated from the story. His brain, his mind was invaluable. And yet, his person was not. We’ll take his ideas, his inventions, and contributions, but society completely tossed him aside because he was different.
The movie indicates that at least some of the motivation for creating digital computers was somehow inspired by his first crush. His boarding school friend Christopher. The love he can’t have. What gay person doesn’t have a Christopher. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but the reasons he can’t have Christopher don’t really matter. Whether our young love interest turned out to be straight, moved away, broke our hearts, whatever, we can all relate to that longing to experience that connection again.
As I look back on my own twenties, I see it. I didn’t identify that connection I had felt as a homosexual connection, but I wanted to replicate the intimacy of a certain relationship that I no longer had. No matter how hard I tried to make friends, I could never seem to find a friend among my exclusively straight acquaintances who gave me that same sense of connection I shared with that first love. In my story, she ended up marrying a man. She might be shocked to know that I consider that a homosexual relationship, but it was for me. I loved her in a romantic way. I never expressed it physically, but emotionally, I was there.
Can a machine think? Can a machine be trained to provide a connection for us? The movie indicates that Alan Turing sought to create a machine that would serve as a companion for him. Oh Alan. You did. As we developed your ideas, we have created machines that allow us to connect with real live people who don’t live near us who can give us those connections. How many gay lives have been saved by the internet? Isolated teenagers who found other people online who had in common that thing that no one else did – that attraction to the same sex. How fitting that it all started with a gay man.
Turns out I didn’t need to worry about my conservative seat mate looking over and seeing a compromising scene. The Imitation Game is a clean movie. All the homosexual content is in dialog. Not once do they show Alan even touching another man. If you are looking for a gay sex film, this film is not it. So often “the gay lifestyle” is stereotyped into promiscuity and excessive sex. That’s not a theme in this film. Turing pines for the deep, romantic connection with another man. The companionship of a real relationship. His pain is palpable.
I’ve since watched the Imitation Game twice more. First with friends, a straight couple who are affirming. Then with two single straight girlfriends whose views on homosexuality are probably more conservative, but I don’t know. This is a movie I can watch with straight people. It’s a movie that can move conservative straight people. Not change their minds, but show them a person. A real live man. Not an “issue”, not a “problem” not an “abomination”. Benedict Cumberbatch brings Alan Turing to life in a way that is endearing and heart breaking.
As the credits rolled on the seat-back screen on the Airbus, I sniffed, whipped my eyes and headed for the tiny little bathroom on the plane. Where I cried for the pain Alan Turing and others like him endured. For the pain caused by people who refuse to accept anything other than straight. And then I returned to my seat, curled up under my scratchy airline blanket and wondered. Alan Turing really didn’t have many options – Homosexuality was illegal lots of places in his day. But me, I could go somewhere. Lots of places accept gay people now. Why the hell do I keep showing up at a place that won’t???