REVIEW: The Imitation Game [2014]

Score: 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 114 minutes | Release Date: December 25th, 2014 (USA)
Studio: The Weinstein Company
Director(s): Morten Tyldum
Writer(s): Graham Moore / Andrew Hodges (novel Alan Turing: The Enigma)

“Shall we leave the children alone with their new toy?”

It’s highly unusual for me to get invested in a biography, so when one comes along that enthralls me as fully as The Imitation Game it’s difficult to know whether I’m simply overreacting. Director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore have done what so few seem to want to attempt despite it so often resonating: focus on a moment their subject is known for rather than the person himself. To give us a glimpse into his childhood for psychological markers or his future to understand completely the toll such a tragic life wrought is to augment the why of what allowed Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to complete something no one else on Earth could. Shrouded in secrets—personal and professional—his genius was left to languish within a solitary life until he could endure it no more.

And to think it took over half a century for us to even know what that “thing” was. The man who came up with the basis for what would eventually become the very computer I’m typing this review on did so with the financial backing of the British government during World War II. Yes, Turing, along with Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard), and Jack Good (James Northcote), cracked the German encryption device known as Enigma and as a result helped end the war an estimated two years earlier than projected—and there’s no telling who’d have won. Six crossword puzzle enthusiasts and mathematicians did the unthinkable and then in order to ensure a potential Hitler Renaissance never found out, they decreed no one else could either.

Bits and pieces slowly trickled out in the mid-1970s, but it wasn’t until the 90s when the truth was released. Moore based his script on Turing biographer Andrew Hodges‘ account entitled Alan Turing: The Enigma and as such positions this complicated man at its center. Despite being underneath the spotlight, however, a good two-thirds of the film is about the work above all else thanks in part to Turing following suit. To him solving the puzzle was all that mattered, a fact which alienated him from coworkers, helped cause Commander Denniston’s (Charles Dance) quest to have him fired, and allowed for one of the toughest decisions during the entire war to be made. He literally put the world on his shoulders, overcame (mostly) a crippling social crutch, and discovered how being a hero sometimes means becoming a monster.

The tale of Enigma unfolds on three fronts: the sadly misunderstood case against Turing by Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear) leading to his 1952 incarceration, Alan’s work at Bletchley Park during the war, and his genesis at boarding school as a boy (played by Alex Lawther). Cumberbatch’s voice narrates to recount the struggles faced throughout Turing’s life via his few friendships from young Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon) to his partners at Bletchley and the cruelty of those his abrasive persona infuriated. We watch the torture, emotional turmoil, and impossible compromises made by a man born to a generation so blindly focused on lifestyle choices different than theirs that they couldn’t see the unparalleled intelligence of a fellow man. And to see those who knew him accept his homosexuality without question only renders his demise by strangers more despicable.

Because this is the true tragedy: that same nation he helped preserve ultimately became the thing that broke him. Would it have been different if the world knew what he had done? Perhaps. But the fact we must even ask such a question reveals the horrors we have still yet to fully expunge beyond the evil of the Axis Powers. His isn’t the only example of prejudice either as Joan Clarke’s success comes despite appearances making it near impossible for a woman to work amongst men. To think the Germans might have won if archaic ideas about gender and sexuality weren’t ignored is unfathomable. And to know Turing may never have been able to see himself as a human being let alone a hero is disgraceful. That’s why this story is more important than breaking the code alone.

Many people claim The Imitation Game doesn’t go into enough depth or to dark enough places, but I beg to differ. In fact, a lot of what I read speaking about things left out about Turing was actually included. Enhancing it with a magnificent performance by Cumberbatch only allows everything to hit us even harder and that’s coming from someone officially bored of his over-exposure—the praise is spot-on. He’s believably idiosyncratic to Asperger’s levels (and so is Lawther), brilliantly stoic when we know emotions are running high beneath his straight face, and heartbreaking when the façade created crumbles. Some details might be expressed with an overtly heavy hand, but by the time they reveal themselves I had already been lured into this dual-fronted tearjerker hitting you in good times and sad.

That success comes courtesy of Tyldum’s direction and perfectly-timed flashbacks and flashforwards inferring upon the scenes at Bletchley. For every buzz of the clock at midnight transforming the entire day’s work worthless as the Germans alter Enigma’s key comes authentic reenactments of Allied troops dying—one every few seconds while Turing and the rest wrestle with numbers and circuits back home. Tyldum pulls us in with the intrigue of a WWII history lesson and proceeds to provide a human tale of perseverance and persecution to which we all should bear witness. The elation of the “bingo” moment is infectious and the pain of each physical stutter by Turing on an island to himself felt. The Imitation Game is the best kind of biopic because it’s as much a call to action with contemporary relevance as it is living portrait.

[1] BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH stars in THE IMITATION GAME. Photo: Jack English © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.
[2] (L-R) Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Allen Leech star in THE IMITATION GAME. © 2014 The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved. / Photo: Jack English

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