“Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” is first said to Alan Turing when he is at school by his friend and will become the defining theme of the Oscar nominated film ‘The Imitation Game’.
In this British biopic about Cambridge mathematician and code breaker, Alan Turing, this film tells the story of how he created one of the first computers to break the “unbreakable” Nazi code, Enigma. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the genius who even though he was instrumental in the Allies winning WWII, was persecuted for his sexual orientation. ‘The Imitation Game’ is a fitting title not only because of Turing’s published work but because his goal is to create a machine that will imitate a human’s ability to break these codes.
The story is heartbreaking and inspiring all at once, with performances by Benedict and Keira Knightley that are truly a wonder to behold but the craftsmanship of its director Mortem Tyldum isn’t as extraordinary as its subject would suggest.
The film uses a series of flashbacks to tell the two most prominent moments of his life – his breaking of an impossible code and the discovery of his homosexuality. The film begins with police showing up to investigate the burglary of the home of prominent mathematician Alan Turing. These flashbacks take place roughly a decade after his role in WWII and begin a series of events that would lead to his arrest.
During this time in England, it was illegal to be gay and an estimated 40,000 people were charged with “gross indecency” because of it. Turing was one of the unfortunate people to fall victim to a law that is a scar on British history. Due to his drive to make a better version of the machine he created to crack the Nazi code, he chose chemical castration instead of imprisonment. He would commit suicide a year later at the age of 41. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted him only the fourth royal pardon since the end of WWII.
These flashbacks are appropriately intertwined throughout the film but seem like the most unoriginal way to go about telling this part of his story. Even with these flashbacks and a series of other flashbacks to his childhood, the movie moves at a very nice pace and screenwriter Graham Moore is able to pack a lot of information into a film that is just shy of 2 hours long. All of this information doesn’t feel overwhelming and makes you want to immediately go home and begin studying computers.
Turing’s main task in the film begins at the beginning of WWII when he meets with Commander Denniston (Charles Dance). This is our real first taste of Benedict’s portrayal of Alan Turing that appears as natural as breathing. In his role as the genius, bordering on insane professor, he expertly shows the wit and literal personality of his character. Turing often comes across as very unlikeable because he manages to alienate himself from his fellow codebreakers with his arrogance and unconventional personality. He pushes his team members over the edge when he appeals to Winston Churchill to make him the commanding office of the group, ousting chess champion Hugh Alexander.
After firing two of the original members, he devises a test to draw new talent to the team. This test takes the form of a crossword puzzle that asks those who can complete it in under 10 minutes to call a number and become a candidate for the job. The candidates are dominated by men with one woman, Joan Clarke who is expertly brought to life by Keira Knightley. Joan Clarke would end up becoming one of Turing’s key allies in breaking the code, earning the respect of his fellow codebreakers and concealing his many secrets.
Benedict and Keira’s characters are alike and different in so many ways. The one characteristic that bonds them is that they are different than everyone else. They are both incredibly smart which comes across as intimidating to many people. The huge difference is that Keira Knightley’s character is able to be in social situations without causing them to quickly disintegrate. Just like Turing, she is very dedicated to her work and is willing to make a marriage work with him so that they can be partners in crime.
The scene that shows their relationship the best is at the very end of the film after Turing has been charged with “gross indecency” and she comes to visit him. He reveals to her that he has chosen chemical castration to continue his work and he has an outpouring of emotion over the thought of someone taking away his machine that he named Christopher. The name Christopher comes from a boy he fell in love with back in school. This boy introduced cryptology to him and is a protector of sorts. He tells Turing that beautiful line that runs throughout the film and that line reappears again when Turing says to Clarke that he wishes he was “normal”.
She tells him about her journey to his home and how she passed through towns and saw people that wouldn’t exist had he not been different and created his machine. The film ends soon after this with him looking at his machine and closing off the lights.
The film tells an extraordinary tale but is filmed in a way that isn’t. The filming is quite generic and seems to borrow a lot of inspiration in terms of how things progress and the flashbacks from a lot of films that have achieved Oscar success in the last few years. Other than that, the film is a masterpiece.
I left the theater feeling angry though. This film made me angry that humans could do this to one another. The film piles on the terror as the war progresses and as Turing is about to be discovered, making you angry that people kill each other in these massive wars and that a nation who owes its very survival to this man, can prosecute and deem him a criminal because he loves someone different than them. We have come a long way since then but still have miles to go in a world that still deems LGBTQ people as less than.
‘The Imitation Game’ highlights a great injustice and achievement through the use of amazing story telling and tremendous acting. With 8 Oscar nominations honoring directing, writing, acting and producing, this film is sure to crack award season with such a harrowing tale.
I give ‘The Imitation Game’ 4.5 out of 5 film reels
‘The Imitation Game’ was released on November 28, 2014 and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Allen Leech, and Rory Kinnear. The film was directed by Mortem Tyldum.