A Movie Review
of The Imitation Game (2014)
By Lance Zedric
For decades following World War II, Ultra, codename for messages deciphered through the breaking of the German Enigma codes, was not the only word that dared not speak its name. In The Imitation Game, the brief, brilliant, and tragic life of British genius Alan Turing, the father of computer science, is dramatized in a must see movie that recounts his preeminent role in breaking the Enigma codes and addresses the public revelation of homosexuality that ultimately contributed to suicide and the loss of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century.
The Imitation Game (Weinstein Company, 2014), directed by Morten Tyldun, is an intriguing glimpse into an aspect of WWII history that had been ignored by Hollywood for too long, partly because codebreaking, as depicted on celluloid, was not the most visually compelling topic, and because homosexuality, until the past decade or so, could not be so openly addressed and wasn’t marketable in mainstream film. But Turing’s story, a 20th century Aristotelian tragedy, was perfect material to slay the problematic three-headed “genius / homosexual / making-a-profit” Hollywood dragon or to at least acknowledge that it was in the room. Turing’s sexual proclivity was handled appropriately and did not detract from the core message that his work shortened the war by years and saved an estimated 14 million lives.
In essence, Turing heads a small team of codebreakers assembled at Bletchley Park about 50 miles northwest of London, and is charged with breaking the world’s most sophisticated code to help England survive the Nazi onslaught. The wildly eccentric and impersonal Turing simultaneously battles deadlines, budgetary restraints, an intransigent boss, disgruntled codebreakers, government figures, and must invent a sophisticated machine (computer) to solve the millions of German cypher permutations that change daily, thereby producing a plethora of antagonists.
Winner of the AFI Movie of the Year award and nominee for the Academy Award for Best Picture, The Imitation Game is a story that had to be told. And Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (cool name) was the perfect actor to tell it. His classic British reserve and exquisite stoicism, coupled with comedic timing and dramatic flexibility, packs layers of meat on a relatively skinny script that appropriately focuses on Turing’s eccentricities and wartime achievements. The brief relationship between Turing and fellow oddball codebreaker Joan Clarke, wonderfully played by Kiera Knightly, thickens the plot, and the award-winning ensemble cast of Matthew William Goode, Allen Leech, and Matthew Beard enhance the character study. Charles Dance and Rory Kinnear also turn in fine performances, but veteran actor Mark Strong was eerily magnificent as superspy Stewart Menzies, the shadowy head of MI6.
More attention could have been given to Turing’s personal life, including his arrest for gross indecency in 1952, and on his other professional accomplishments, particularly his post-war work. But a cursory look was better than none.
Turing’s contribution to winning the war and to the development of computer science cannot be undervalued regardless of myriad personality quirks or sexual orientation. The Imitation Game is a balanced look into the life of a brilliant and tormented man that is great theater. But it is not an apologetic effort to right past societal injustice or to advance the cause of a lifestyle, rather it is a fine dramatic look into a tragic figure who was the man for the occasion—but understanding the man, and the times in which he lived, is more enigmatic than the codes he cracked.
9 out of 10 stars.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing.
Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke.