Manuel Betancourt

Oscar Challenge 2015: The Imitation Game & The Theory of Everything

February 2, 2015 · in Film

The Imitation Game & The Theory of Everything

The Imitation Game
Best Picture
Best Director
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Best Music (Original Score)
Best Film Editing
Best Production Design
The Theory of Everything
Best Picture
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Best Music (Original Score)

Brandishing a humanistic call for empathy and love, this biopic of a British genius attempts to wear its heart on its sleeve even as it boils down advanced theories down to bite-sized Hallmark captions.

How do you humanize a genius? Or rather, how do you craft a story about ideas when both you and your audience are more fascinated with domestic stories about marriages, friendships, and war?

The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, both handsomely shot and superbly acted biopics about Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing end up attempting to do both: tell the story of the genius and the men and women behind him. It’s a gamble and while Theory goes the Beautiful Mind route, Imitation goes more cerebral; one romantic, the other mathematical, they both choose narratives that humanize the genius without having to deal with his desiring body. Sex and disability in the former and homosexuality in the latter become dramatic asides we’re supposed to commend the filmmakers for acknowledging even as they go out of their way to narratively ignore them.

Theory of Everything
Imitation Game

Ostensibly giving us a story about the limits of a wife’s devotion and care, The Theory of Everything ultimately just follows Eddie Redmayne’s Hawking, his marriage with Felicity Jones’s tender Jane being merely a plot necessity and humanizing touch to give weight to what is ultimately a rather sentimental take on Hawking’s eponymous “theory of everything” (spoiler alert: the answer is love). Indeed, whenever the film begins asking fascinating questions about new family structures, modern relationships or really anything that asks us to consider Jane as a character onto herself, the script feels the gravitational pull of Hawking and redirects us to where he is, forcing us to follow Jane right back to him. This is nowhere more evident than in the way the film handles the Jane/Jonathan relationship one which a number of questions about commitment, intimacy and family structures jockey for attention and yet, even as they find themselves enjoying a fun road trip with the Hawking kids, the film yanks the momentum of this subplot and all but ignores the repercussion of Stephen’s relapse in Jonathan and Jane’s lives.

More daring if also more skittish is Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game which gives us a triptych of Turing’s life: as a young boy enamored with a fellow boarding school lad, as an irascible and socially challenged mathematical genius working for MI6 during the war, and as a suspected sodomite brought in for questioning decades later. The screenplay aims for the precision and exactitude of Turing’s own “Christopher” (the very first computer which cracked the German enigma code) and in doing so feels quite efficient if not really fully alive. Sparks fly mostly when Keira Knightley’s ?? is onscreen; her effortless spontaneity a great match to Cumberbatch’s asperges’s Turing. Yet, even as the script seems to take Turing’s sexuality head on, the film really skirts around it, feeling more at home within a Wildean sensibility (it rarely speaks its name) rather than in the contemporary notes it tries to hit. Indeed, much like Hawking’s marriage in Theory, Turing’s homosexuality seems both a plotted necessity of the film while also its biggest obstacle. It’s a giant pink elephant in the room one has to acknowledge but goddamn it if we’d ever be caught dead writing a film about it. It irks one because in trying to seem post-gay (why focus on his sexuality when we want to focus on his achievements?) the film comes off as a re-closeting (here, focus on his achievements, not on the pesky sexuality which both helped and ultimately condemned him). This is nowhere more evident than in the film’s denouement which gives us just enough information about the atrocities Turing had to go through as a convicted homosexual and his subsequent suicide, recoiling from the repercussions that would have both historically and narratively. His suicide becomes a punctuation mark in the film rather than an opportunity to explore how it might color the very patriotic and secret-riddled story we’ve just witnessed.

The Imitation Game B

The Theory of Everything B-