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Friday, January 30, 2015

Pay attention: The Imitation Game

In all its density - and that is a good and unexpected thing here - the Alan Turing film The Imitation Game provides a visceral awareness that time sometimes is literal torture. While great minds - and compassionate hearts among them - work ubiquitously, frustratingly, yet even progressively toward cracking codes to save the world, a tank rolls over a helmet, parents put their children on London's trains to send them, unimaginably, away from bombs that fall, and fall, and fall.

There's an old Michael Been/The Call song that cries, "When will America become America?* When will the home we love mean freedom for everyone?" It, in the sentiment of Psalm 40, I guess, is so much truer and weightier a proposition than John Lennon's "Imagine there's no heaven, no hell, no country, nothing to kill or die for, it isn't hard to do."

Maybe it is easy to imagine peace and justice and borderless, colorless, people living for today. But it's empty of conviction because there is death and killing and torture, there's hell at least here and now. While Britain's smartest cryptologists build a computer and start from scratch every morning in trying to figure out what the Germans are saying about their plans to attack the Allies, the Germans attack the Allies, the British starve, the U.S. sends food, the food gets bombed to the bottom of the ocean. While the smart, even compassionate thinkers think and test some more.

While we read books and have meetings and make statements (write blogs) about our dreams for the world to live as one... While we debate whether #blacklivesmatter needs more leadership or (imaginable) goals, my friend's son, my student's brother, get stopped by police because they're black. While we hold national evangelical denominational "conversations" or bring special speakers to campus to train us to love and "provide safe spaces" alongside iterating apologetics for traditional, unambiguous sexuality doctrine, a young man feels what a person can't feel for long, thinking about killing himself. A woman, with anger and confusion borne of betrayal, disentangles herself from her faith.

Benedict Cumberbatch's Turing says, you have to pay attention, listen. "Are you paying attention?" The Imitation Game is a war movie with palpable representation of war without gore. We've seen the severed limbs blown off before. We've lingered and illustrated war violence ad nauseam in other movies. "Do you know why people like violence?" Turing asks more than once (pay attention). "Because it feels good." It's satisfying to see it on a screen (for far fewer, to see or enact it in person). "When you take away the satisfaction, it becomes hollow." We see the effects of personalized violence in The Imitation Game in Turing's complicated face when his body is in the process of chemical castration (what a euphemism; pay attention - is he a man or a machine). In other movies, we've seen that violence on screen as a hero's held down by multiple white-coated attendants, administering electric shock. None of that satisfaction is here. We have to look right at him in his own space, his home, his ongoing agony of being, beyond the immediate moment of enacted violence. And that violence is hollow. He's been waking up with this for days, months. We don't see it in its neat, graphic moment. Instead, we see what months (oh, more) of brokenness, being broken, look like in his face. Harder to look away and (self-satisfactorily or even progressively) rage against the machine in that moment (though I rage). In The Imitation Game, "war efforts" intercut with war, and violence tortures a person way beyond a moment or a scene. Time conducts all wounds.

Sometimes we need to see the violence in explicit immediacy. We need to see it when it's shocking, somehow shown new, as the unimaginable but undeniable hatred, dehumanization, physical violence and fear on the bridge in Selma. In The Imitation Game, the shock is in jolting attention to the fact that working everyday on cracking a code occurs as everyday casualties repeat. While we're working on policy and rhetoric and, yes, on understanding so that we can stop violence, we will never act justly and love mercy fast enough or finally enough to save the world. Listen, look.

* Cf., Rufus Wainwright's out-of-patience "Going to a Town" - "I'm going to a town that's already been burnt down. I'm so tired of America," yet still, "I've got a life to live, I've got a love to give..." Critical loyalty to an institution or society clashes anger and assertiveness with ongoing failure (and, yes, progress).

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