Louie Zamperini, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking … Somehow I find that I’ve been recently watched several films (in the theaters no less) that are biopics of amazing, interesting, unique men.
Unbroken, Imitation Game and Theory of Everything have a lot in common. They’re all primarily set in the mid-20th Century; the first two are about WWII. They are all about men who are unique from others in some big way. Zamperini was an Olympic athlete and the other two are cutting-edge mathematicians/ scientists. Each of the men is challenged in life in some huge way (as a prisoner of war, persecution for homosexuality and with a degenerative disease). In each case, the film is based on a book about the life of the person as told by someone other than the man himself. And they were all nominated for Academy Awards.
I don’t usually watch movies or read books where men are the main characters. It’s not intentional. I suppose as a woman I tend to be drawn towards women’s stories. I usually read women’s memoirs. And most Hollywood films have women as main characters. In fact, the main women in the lives of both Turing and Hawking do play a big role in the film and I was endlessly interested in them. I wanted to know a lot more about Joan Clarke, the only woman working with Turing, and about Jane Wilde Hawking who choose to love (and eventually leave) her brilliant husband. But ultimately, the films are about the men, and the lives that they led in part by choice and in part out of happenstance.
Each of these films brought tears to my eyes, always right at the end of the movie. With Unbroken, my eyes welled with tears at the end when I learned that Zamperini eventually did go to the Olympics to run the torch in Japan, the place where he had been tortured so many years before. There was something so amazing about the resilience in that and so beautiful about the global recognition of that important thing. The film says that he married and had two kids and I couldn’t help but wonder what his life was really like, what kind of PTSD he might have lived with, how his family relationship really worked out. But the teariness was because of the way the film suggests that there was some kind of personal resolution at the end.
With Imitation Game, the tears were from anger at the injustice of it all. Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality and put on chemical castration hormones. The film doesn’t go into detail about how those chemicals affected him, but I can imagine that they were awful in terms of wreaking havoc on the body and emotions. A year after starting them, Turing committed suicide. And reading that line at the end of the movie just made me cry.
I can’t even wrap my head around the war as told from the lenses of these two different men – a prisoner of war held in Japan after 40 some days at sea and all the death witnessed and pain experienced there followed by a life that presents on the surface at least as relatively normal and a man who created the cutting-edge computer system that broke the German code and helped to bring that war to an end but who died shortly after in a tragic way by his own hand.
I’m not sure what in Theory of Everything made me teary. It was a different kind of teary. Maybe it was the dissolution of the couple’s marriage. Maybe it was the scene at the end when Hawking imagines being able to just get up and pick up a pencil that has dropped, something so simple for most of us. Is it a blessing or a curse that he was trapped in that non-working body but that his brilliant mind was unhindered?
Perhaps because what’s always interested me is human psychology or perhaps because I’m immersed in counseling studies for my program but I can’t help looking at the stories of each of these men and wondering about their mental health. I wonder about Zamperini and PTSD. I wonder about Turing and depression. I wonder about Hawking and grief. I wonder what makes them able to persevere (or perhaps not, in Turing’s case) and what the quality of life is in terms of mental health rather than what output they offered to the world.
I don’t have answers. Just musings.