The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game (2014)
★★★★ / ★★★★

In 1939, mathematician and professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) joins a top secret program designed to decrypt Nazi communications. The Enigma program is considered to be near impossible to solve because once the clock strikes midnight, the codes are changed and eighteen hours of hard work is flushed down the drain. The cryptographers must try again the next morning and go through one hundred fifty-nine million million million settings—twenty million years worth of settings—and with a great stroke of luck, the war would be won. Instead, Turing proposes a radical idea.

Although the subject of “The Imitation Game,” written by Graham Moore and directed by Morten Tyldum, is a highly intellectual man, one who is not entirely likable, the film is highly accessible as a drama because it gives us time to appreciate not only Turing’s work but also what he chooses to protect when faced with a threat. It is told in a nonlinear fashion but the transitions feel very natural because the theme involving the protagonist striving toward one thing yet running away from another cuts through time.

The picture is beautiful to look at, from the attires the characters wear to the interiors and exteriors of Bletchley Park. I felt transported to a time and place where everybody is busy trying to work toward a common goal of ending a most egregious war. Not one battle scene is shown and yet there is feeling in the air that many lives are lost each day. The magic is embedded in the urgency of the performances coupled with a few newsreels that highlight the costs of war.

Cumberbatch does not carry the picture because the supporting performers are ace, but he does elevate an already great dramatic material. It is an interesting performance because although Cumberbatch has a cold face, almost villainous, he is able to find—in a consistent matter—small but important ways to communicate varying degrees of vulnerability. I enjoyed watching the fresh choices he makes in terms of how to make Turing more likable in one scene but reverting to being inaccessible again the next. He plays his character in an enigmatic way—most appropriate because he is a puzzle for us to solve, just as the Nazi code is his to decipher.

Touching are the scenes between Turing and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a woman who, despite her intellect, is not allowed by her parents to work alongside men. Their partnership is rooted in a common understanding and respect, but it is never too syrupy that what they share distracts from the main plot. Knightley, too, is able to hit surprising notes that lesser actors would have likely played straight.

There is a scene toward the end, a flashback, that moved me greatly. It involves young Turing (Alex Lawther) receiving a piece of information in the headmaster’s office. It is a brilliantly executed scene because it essentially implies, at least partly, why adult Turing has ended up the way he is—often relying on his mind as a ready-made weapon and his proclivity against becoming close to another human being. We are looking at a child with a gift—but one with a difficult life ahead of him. Rich scenes like this makes the film, loosely based on “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges, very much worth seeing.

2 replies »

  1. Didn’t quite do it for me. While it was entertaining of a watch, it also felt incredibly safe and by-the-numbers, too. Nice review Franz.

  2. I also enjoyed “The Imitation Game”, but I don’t think as much as you did — it’s beautifully shot and solidly acted, but it didn’t have any real emotional connection with me. In any case, excellently written review.

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