At this time of year, the marketing for Oscar-bait and — sometimes mutually exclusive — Oscar-worthy films can be a bit overwhelming. Given the very concept of perception, that anything which ignores a pattern will stand out, it can seem counter-intuitive that different versions of the same message continue to garner the most attention. That being said, there’s no denying the occasion outlier, like when Marisa Tomei won for a comedic role in My Cousin Vinny.
However, the standard nominations for the Best Picture category continue this year as they have in the past. There will inevitably be a movie about war: American Sniper, Hurt Locker, War Horse and more. There’s usually something concerning slavery, racism, and/or civil rights movements: Selma, The Help, 12 Years a Slave, etc. The third usual suspect is the topic of homosexuality: Dallas Buyer’s Club, Brokeback Mountain, Milk and others. Naturally, given the expectation, long before these movies are even seen, because of their subject matter they will earn at least a nomination.
Last week at Brock University Film Series (BUFS), British LGBT historical comedy-drama Pride was shown, which details the efforts of lesbian and gay activists to support the miner’s strike in 1984 Britain. Despite being a well-acted and thoroughly enjoyable film, there’s no denying the cheesiness it brings to the source material. Enthusiastically accurate music pervades most scenes, at one point finding voice in a supremely talented singer who, after a rousing pep talk by one of the film’s gay leads, bursts into a perfect, eventually harmonized and accompanied rendition of the politically-charged strike anthem “Bread and Roses”.
Just a few days later, I had the pleasure to see The Imitation Game, a film I had been looking forward to for some time due to what I knew of its lead character, mathematician Alan Turing. As the father of modern computer models, concepts like algorithms and artificial intelligence, and many other factual roots responsible for much of the sci-fi I enjoy so often, I’ve been a fan of Turing’s legacy for some time. For the most part I considered him an integral contributor in the development of most of the technology I use and enjoy, while also being aware of that he was homosexual at a time of great intolerance, which led to him facing injustice consequences at the hands of his own government. However, what I didn’t know about Turing that the film detailed would shock me unlike any other “based on a true story” film has done so in a long time, if ever.
At this point I should warn you that I’ll be spoiling parts of The Imitation Game; if you have any interest in the slightest, I’d obviously urge you to see it, but really, the reality of the source material wouldn’t detract too much from any enjoyment of the film, though it would no doubt alter the experience.
Although the film does streamline much of the truth of Turing’s contributions to the Allies’ intelligence-gathering efforts in WWII (removing some real-life figures and absorbing their work into Turing’s character, simplifying the cryptography for the audience’s benefit, and other standards for historical drama), there are straight facts of his achievements that cannot be watered down for cinema’s sake. As stated at the film’s close in plain white font, Turing’s work in decoding the Nazi’ enigma code machine likely shortened WWII by two to four years, saving as many as 14 million lives. If the revelation that, by the numbers, Turing is likely the greatest war hero (in a more creative use of the term, given that he didn’t see combat) doesn’t completely astound you, I’m not sure what will. However, couple that with the treatment he faced at the hands of his own government, which he had faithfully served in the war, and the story becomes more tragic still. After the war, Turing was prosecuted for homosexual acts, which in 1952 was still considered illegal. He subsequently faced chemical castration and within two years was found dead by what was determined to be suicide. One of the key architects in the end of the greatest war fought on the planet was essentially killed by the very people he served, just for being gay.
Whereas Pride dresses up an admittedly important story with pomp and comedy, The Imitation Game, with a few caveats reserved for the movie theatre, tells one of the most significant and tragic stories I’ve ever seen on film, and with admirable subtlety, letting the weight of it settle down on you instead of throwing it in your face. While it’s surely an important movie this year, it tells an important story that deserves commemoration as much as any other truth of the war’s resolution, if not more.