Are you paying attention? The very first line of director Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game will have you hooked, and there you’ll stay, firmly in it’s clutches for the film’s entirety. Based on the life of the genius mathematician and one of the founders of the modern computer, Alan Turing was one of the most influential people of the 20th century, and yet went wholly unrecognised for his efforts until some fifty years later, long after his death. The Imitation Game follows Turing’s time at Bletchley Park during WWII, where he and a group of like-minded code-breakers were enlisted in a top secret British Government program that aimed to break the German enigma code and win the war. Enigma machines were what all German officers used to encrypt their messages during the war, and for many years the code had been deemed ‘unbreakable’. That is, until Turing came along.
Alan Turing is a hugely intriguing character from history who experienced some incredible highs in his career, but some devastating lows in his personal life. As a homosexual man, Turing was convicted for indecency in 1952 and was given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration with oestrogen injections, choosing the latter so he could continue his work. A possible sufferer of Asperger’s Sydnrome, he had trouble forming relationships and found much solace in the far more logical practice of mathematics. The Imitation Game sees Benedict Cumberbatch effortlessly embodying Turing as a self-assured, intense, but deeply passionate man in a performance that manages to very beautifully capture one of the most brilliant minds of recent history. Not unfamiliar with playing geniuses, Cumberbatch has starred as characters like Sherlock and Julian Assange, but he seems to fit the part of Alan Turing in a way that no other actor could have, and it is surely his best performance to date.
But Cumberbatch isn’t the only one whipping out the acting big guns, with a strong supporting cast and standout performances from the likes of Keira Knightly and Matthew Goode as fellow analysts Joan Clarke and Hugh Alexander. Screenwriter Graham Moore has done a fantastic job at making the film accessible and understandable to the average movie-goer (as some of the inner workings of Enigma get pretty confusing), whilst still creating a screenplay that is intelligent and captivating. However, there were a few trite one-liners and sweeping inspirational statements that really pulled me out of the moment and, in my opinion, detracted from the believability of what could have been and authentically moving story.
This is actually the foundation of my beef with this movie, and other movies like it. They take a truly amazing person from history who has achieved things beyond comprehension, then instead of telling their whole story, they embellish and omit, buffing and shining everything up, Hollywood-style, so that it’s “easy” and “enjoyable” to watch. These are not words you would use to describe Alan Turing’s true-to-life story, which, yes, had times of triumph, but was also heartbreaking, unfair and, towards the end of his life, totally immoral. Yet, the filmmakers choose to brush over these parts rather flippantly, focusing on the good and giving less attention to the bad. Add to this all the cliches of inspirational movies, including a swelling orchestral score at vital plot points and the blatant repetition of the story’s message, and it doesn’t quite pay all the respect that Alan Turing deserves.
In saying this, The Imitation Game is still a hugely engrossing and, I believe, important film to see. While it might not tell the whole story, this will be the first many people will have heard of the great Alan Turing, and his is a name that deserves to be remembered.
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