I’m worried this is going to come off as trite, but I’m writing it just the same. About a week ago, the film Ender’s Game was released, coming out on top for its debut weekend with $28 million in box office sales. Not too shabby, but not record-breaking, or even terribly impressive. It also wasn’t particularly good, I’ve been told. Decent, but not great. The film has a 62% over at RottenTomatoes. I’m actually a little disappointed that it wasn’t better, since the original work deals with child soldiers, genocide, war, competing political interests, the possibility of human extinction, and even the burden put on one child’s shoulders to save the world. While the novel on which the film is based doesn’t really critically engage with those concepts so much as it presumes their necessity, the film was a genuine opportunity to sink teeth into those ideas in a less congratulatory fashion. It did not.
If you haven’t heard, it seems that The Imitation Game (named for the famous Turing Test, an Alan Turing biopic, is in the works. Recent news (February of this year) has let us know that Benedict Cumberbatch will star as Turing, the troubled genius whose work helped to crack the Enigma Code and helped the Allies win World War II. Also confirmed is Keira Knightley, who will likely play Joan Clarke, a coworker of Turing’s within Hut 8 at Bletchley Park (the center of the UK’s WWII decryption establishment), and, briefly, his fiancee. I’ve also heard rumor that Matthew Goode of Watchmen fame will also star in the film.
There’s been talk of the script since 2011 when it was made public on The Black List, a survey of the “most liked” screenplays not yet produced. You can check out the 2011 list here, although the script has since been aggressively hunted and removed from the internet. However, over at ScriptShadow, there is a fairly thorough review of the screenplay, which is positive although it highlights a discomfort with Turing’s homosexuality coming off as a “quirk” in the film.
That being said, this is certainly not the first time Turing’s life story has been played in film. There is a lovely 1996 BBC television film entitled Breaking the Code, based on a play released a decade before, which stars Derek Jacobi (Turing) and Amanda Root (Pat Green, based on Joan Clarke).
The play itself was written by Hugh Whitmore and premiered in 1986 in London’s West End and then moved to Broadway in 1987. It cleverly links Turing’s work in cryptography, the mathematical protection of secrets, to the secrets he kept in his own life, primarily his homosexuality. Both the play and the television adaptation were lauded for their treatment of this part of Turing’s life, treating it as it was, a part of him which in his own lifetime would come to overshadow his greatest achievements. Receiving a GLAAD award, a Broadcasting Press Guild Award, and a pair of BAFTA nominations, Breaking the Code received near-universal critical acclaim both onscreen and on stage. In fact, stage productions continue to this day and are well-reviewed almost without variation wherever they are, including the Theatre Royal in Northampton and the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, MA. While this is certainly to the credit of the respective production and performance teams, it is also a credit to Whitmore’s authorship.
Alan Turing was, of course, prosecuted for homosexual activities in 1952, as it was illegal at the time. He was convicted, lost his security clearances, and chose chemical castration in the form of diethylstilbestrol (a synthetic estrogen) over a prison sentence. Two years later, he would commit suicide. You can head over to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal for a humorous take on just how incredibly bigoted and idiotic it was that Britain lost one of its greatest minds to institutionalized homophobia. Gordon Brown apologized in 2009. No pardon has been issued, despite calls from the public and scientific communities, though a bill has been introduced in the House of Lords.
Moving forward, this is my primary concern with The Imitation Game. I have no doubt that Cumberbatch can bring the character to life, though I’ve heard arguments that he will have to be careful to keep his Turing sufficiently distant from his Holmes. I worry that the film will play the thrill and genius of his work, and leave his homosexuality, his persecution, and the grand injustices that drove him to suicide a footnote, incidental to his academic talents. To ignore the homophobic betrayal of a talented patriot by his own queen and country, if you will, is to do a disservice to Turing’s memory, to LGBT persons everywhere, and to anyone who might benefit from the full, genuine telling of Alan Turing’s life story.
Breaking the Code can be found, in its full 90 minutes, on Youtube. If you’d like to learn more about Alan Turing (and I hope sincerely that you would), please visit the Turing Digital Archive. Lacking both the time and the talent to fully explain his genius and his contributions to the Allied effort and the state of the modern world, I recommend that you see his work for yourself.
So many of you may have realized by this point that I have been pretty heavily into Teen Wolf recently. No, don’t worry, this post isn’t about Teen Wolf too, but it was when reading some Teen Wolf fanfiction recently that I noticed something that I thought was pretty cool.
Many of the fanfics I read did not define a loss of virginity with penetration. There was more than one fanfic I read were mutual masturbation or oral sex were defined as enough of a sex act to be considered as “actually having sex.”
Now I’m not saying on the whole that every Teen Wolf fanfic is like this. I think it is more likely I just ended up reading a string of fics that define sexual intercourse more broadly than penetrative sex. That being said, I find it incredibly interesting that more fanfics are beginning to define sex and virginity more broadly. The reason I find this so interesting is because even now you have plenty of people who declare for sex to be “real sex” there must be some kind of penetration. No penetration, no sex.
As you can imagine this is frighteningly heterosexist and extremely problematic when we talk about virginity.