Last post sequel: Turing and the Truth


I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. So, given that this is my third post in just over two days, you might think I have resolved to post more, but that’s not the case. Inspiration has met opportunity.

Since my last post, on the film The Imitation Game and the parallels between Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde, I have participated in a somewhat feisty exchange of views on Facebook with a military historian. Perhaps arguing on Facebook is fairly pointless; nevertheless, it provided me with an interesting diversion from some otherwise mundane tasks. For a little while.

My historian friend took exception with The Imitation Game for several reasons and I won’t bore you with them here–suffice to say that he does not consider the film to be an accurate historical record. Now, he has a point there and I am happy to concede it. Five minutes on the internet will probably reveal a more precise account of the events of Bletchley Park and Mr Turing.

I consider his vehemence interesting for a couple of reasons and I thought I would explain them here. Firstly, I made it clear in our exchange that the film is An Entertainment. I even used capital letters to reinforce the importance of this. It tells A Story–and a very engaging, challenging, well crafted one at that. And I use the word ‘crafted’ deliberately. I don’t deny that facts are important but I will argue that facts and the truth are not one and the same. My Facebook quarry and I saw the same film, but have taken very different truths from it.

So then I arrive at this issue: what obligation do films that are ‘based on a true story’ have to a commonly accepted, reasonably accurate version of the truth? If the makers of The Imitation Game had attempted to stay close to actual events, they would have made a very different film–one that, perhaps, I would not have enjoyed nearly as much. We all know how World War Two ended–countless films, of very mixed quality, have revisited this era. Turing’s work (and that of his team) shortened it by approximately two years. Turing was a homosexual when this was illegal. On their own, aren’t these facts a little bit bland?

But in the hands of the film makers, and of Benedict Cumberbatch, they become something tragic, compelling, provocative, enduring. I go to the movies for those truths–not an ocean of facts. It is entirely feasible that someone will see The Imitation Game and be inspired to learn more, and then the film will have done its job.

Finally, films manipulate us. Lots of texts manipulate us. We can choose whether or not we want to be manipulated but part of the joy of cinema for me is opening up to that experience–saying, I want to be moved by this story! I want to laugh and cry and think about this film again in a week!

Everyone is of course entitled to their opinion. Everyone is entitled to judge a film according to their whims. But when it comes to a good story, it is absolutely necessary at times to dispense with facts if they get in the way. If people know how to think critically, they will ask all the right questions in response.

For another film recommendation that will get you thinking and arguing, please see Gone Girl. I have not read the novel but I have finally decided that the film is very good. It took me a while.

Thanks for reading.

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