Over the holidays I saw films about two inspiring men (Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking), and yet I’m much more interested in the extraordinary women, or the co-stars. Obviously. First is Alan Turing, whose involvement in intelligence service for the British government during World War II is portrayed in The Imitation Game. The success of this film lies in offering up something for everyone; for those who came for the strategies of combat, secrets and lies and others who wanted to know more about Turing’s humanity, everyone will go home satisfied. It stands to say that Turing is incredible. Hell, I even learned about the Turing system in my beginners Computer Science class in high school. His brilliance is special but he lived within a society where he never quite fit. Whether that’s from his sexual orientation and the persecution he suffered from it, or his lack of social know-how that meant that he was never quite accepted. Either way, it was this perception of his own difference that he battled with his entire life but also what made him more open-minded. It’s this history of being dismissed that made him consider the talents of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), in spite of her sex. Yes Clarke was smart and participated in very important work that she will never be credited for, but what’s also compelling is her relationship to Turing. She was his friend when everyone thought that he was strange and a misfit. She saw beyond his interest in codes to his ability to think bigger than anyone else. Imagine how much her friendship was worth when he was treated with such little kindness his entire life.
In The Theory of Everything Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) is Stephen’s university sweetheart and wife who was there from the beginning of his carefree days as a student to when his body began to give way. She is the mother to his children, the woman who fed him and clothed him and set him off to work. She is the light that kept things in perspective even when things probably were very dark. Jane Hawking also has a Ph.D. You would never think that would you? That such a strong, selfless, awe-inspiring woman would also be so accomplished. They showed it briefly in the film, the struggle, when she’s trying to study amidst the noise of the house, when she found the time to focus on her mind when I’m sure her body and soul were so very tired. Jane was there as Stephen Hawking was making his mark and she bore it all. She was steadfast when he initially said that they didn’t need help because they were a “normal” family.
What is it with these extraordinary men and their obsession with being normal? You would think that they were far too special for something banal like fitting it. The pull is always there though, that desire for some reprieve since it’s so much easier to be ordinary. It’s no surprise then that the Hawking marriage wore down. You can only go through so much together before you seek something a bit lighter, non? Who wants to live with all of that weight? With the end of Turing’s life you are sad for him. Not for his life, but that he won’t see what an impact he’s had. That it takes so long for the world to catch up.
Both films are beautiful in their own way. One brings forth larger and relevant issues of security, identity, and social acceptance. The other gets at the complexities of marriage and the politics of living with someone, the hurt we cause and the outcomes of this history of flaws. But both provide hope, to continue on our paths because one day, you’ll be somewhere fine, the sun will shine, and all will be right with the world. Perspective. Both offer perspective.