Friday, February 20, 2015

Going to the Movies (part 2)

YIKES...I better get moving. Only two more days before the golden statues start wandering into various stars' hands.

So, next two movies compared and contrasted: The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.  This is probably the most natural pairing. After all, both are about British men who are real, not fictional. Both men are geniuses. Both men accomplished something that changed human history. And both are products of the 20th century.

Now for some differences.

First, perhaps for those who have not yet seen either movie, I should tell you what they are about.  The Imitation Game centers on the efforts of the Allies, specifically the
British, to break the Nazis' code which was used to send orders to various factions of their military effort.  The Nazis used a machine (code named Engima) to help set the encryption. At the outset of World War II, the Nazis' encryption was seemingly unbreakable. Not only was the encryption device a thing of mastery, but the code used was changed daily.  The Allies, who had captured an Enigma machine, tried mightily to see patterns in the string of letters being sent out, but every day any progress they may have made ended at midnight when the new code was put in place.  Enter Alan Turing, and many others, who were hired specifically by the British war effort to break the code. They were housed at Bletchley Park, in Buckinghamshire, England.  And they were sworn to complete secrecy.

The movie The Imitation Game compresses its story in such a way to make Alan Turing the center. There is justification in that--as Turing was a genius who is today regarded as the father of the computer.  Many other people were involved in this effort--a fact that gets a bit lost in the context of the movie. The secrecy to which people were sworn continued LONG after the end of World War II, and has only recently been given full coverage.  If you haven't read much about this aspect of World War II, do so--it is fascinating reading, worth any thriller novel that any writer could conceive.

The Theory of Everything is based on a book written by Stephen Hawking's first wife, Jane. While Stephen was a young man, in his early 20s, he began to experience muscle weakness, that was eventually diagnosed as motor neuron disease, or what today we call amytrophic lateral sclerosis. Such early onset of this disease is rare. Many things are amazing about Hawking: that he is still alive, decades after the start of the disease, that he persisted in an academic career despite towering odds against him, that he is a published author who continues to write, that he married--twice--and fathered three children.

The movie focuses on these early years, with his courtship of Jane, with his burgeoning academic career, and most obviously with his coping with a life-altering disease. 

So, now the contrasts between these movies. Even though both suffered through circumstances that made their lives difficult, Turing's eventual outcome was ignomy. He was a homosexual in an age that not only demonized that sexual orientation but also declared it illegal. The movie focuses in part on his being persecuted-although some historians challenge the movie's veracity. What is definite is that he died young, at age 42. There is some speculation that his death was suicide. It was not until some years after his death that he was recognized posthumously, with any record of "illegal" acts expunged.

Hawking's circumstance, of course, is that he has a disease which usually results in the person's death within a few years.  He has not only lived, but lived well and been recognized, lionized and given many appropriate awards for his ground breaking work, particularly on black holes.  The movie condenses this recognition into one touching scene where Hawking and his by then ex-wife go to Buckingham Palace where he is honored by the queen for his contributions to science.

Even if these movies were not about real men, it would be obvious that their stories differ in terms of inter-personal relationship. Turing is shown as socially awkward, distanced, and somewhat aloof. Hawking is playful, engaging, and mischievous. Both, of course, are wholly dedicated to their work and push themselves to limits.

These movies are very satisfying to watch, even though they are stories conventionally told, using the kinds of movie techniques we associate with good story telling. You won't leave the theater thinking--wow, what great cinematography, what great effects, what amazing scenes.  But you will leave thinking--Wow! What great men. What contributions to humanity. What triumph of the human will.

1 comment:

Anvilcloud said...

I would like to see both, but it doesn't seem as though it would be necessary to pay theatre prices to enjoy them.