Mark Reviews Movies

The Imitation Game


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Morten Tyldum

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking)

Running Time: 1:54

Release Date: 11/28/14 (limited); 12/12/14 (wider); 12/25/14 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 11, 2014

It does not take an expert in history or cryptology to realize that The Imitation Game overly simplifies the breaking of the Enigma code. The solution to the puzzle of the "unbreakable" Nazi cipher is almost insultingly obvious here (Certainly a group of geniuses could overlook something so apparent in their search, but it just comes across as an inexcusable oversight). It also would not take an expert in psychology to realize that the psychological framework of a person is not clearly charted over three periods of that person's life. These are, perhaps, the inevitable snares of biography, which must reduce the complex to the simple and the comprehensible in the process of crafting a narrative out of the scope of a human life.

The Imitation Game is simple, but it is also cogent in making the case for its subject's place in history, both as one of the great modern minds and as the target of one of society's great failures. Late in the film, the subject argues against the latter in terms that are fully logical, but his thinking is too far ahead of its time for the person receiving the idea to understand. It's 1952, and Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is trying to explain how a digital computer could one day display intelligence that may be artificial but could be just as valuable as human intelligence. Perhaps, some day in the future, it will be even more valuable. Either way, just because a thing thinks in a different way does not mean that thing is inherently inferior.

Turing, as one might know, was convicted of "gross indecency" for his sexual relationship with another man. We know the Turing of the film is also speaking about himself when he discusses a computer programmed to think in a certain way—a different way from what is considered "normal." What's intriguing is that Turing does not see the inability of his accuser to understand his reasoning as an insult toward himself. It's an insult against intellect and reason. If a man cannot understand what's right in front of him, how could he possibly fathom a theoretical concept?

"You're no help to me," Turing says as a final dismissal. He is beyond such trivial concerns as misunderstandings about and laws against sexual preference. For him, the injustice is not that he faces social disgrace and time in prison for one part of who he is. The injustice is that people would dare to interrupt his work over such a petty matter. Ultimately, he chooses a torturous form of punishment—with the absurd aim to "cure" him of his sexual urges—over a prison sentence. In his mind, it's not a choice: He cannot work from prison.

Graham Moore's screenplay (based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges) sets up Turing's story as a mystery, with voice-over from Turing informing the detective (Rory Kinnear) questioning him—and, by extension, informing us—to listen carefully. That the Turing of the film is not a mystery is equal parts edifying and frustrating.

The large majority of the film deals with his time working for the British government at Bletchley Park during World War II as part of a team of codebreakers to crack the Enigma code. The military commander (Charles Dance) in charge of the operation is looking for any excuse to fire Turing. The other members of the team, including chess champion Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), find him personally off-putting and his attempt to build a machine that can decipher the code counterproductive. Only Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a master at crossword puzzles whom Turing recruits by placing an ad with a puzzle in the newspapers, and Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), an MI6 agent, see Turing's value.

The third part of Turing's life explored here is his time at boarding school (awkwardly transitioned to with an on-the-nose line of dialogue). A social outcast even then, the teenage Turing's (Alex Lawther) only friend is Christopher (Jack Bannon), who encourages his intelligence while the other students bully him. In case there's any doubt about how much import Moore places on this relationship in terms of uncovering Turing's psyche, Turing gives the name "Christopher" to the rudimentary computer he's building to decipher Enigma.

Details such as this are unhelpful to understanding Turing, who is quite clearly depicted during his time at Bletchley Park as a man driven by his obsession with a challenge that everyone deems to be beyond any individual's skill. Isolating himself from his colleagues, Turing has no comprehension of everyday human interaction, until Joan suggests he try to at least gain his teammates' grudging respect (He provides apples and a hastily recited joke).

Cumberbatch plays Turing as a man always leading with or retreating into his head. His eyes dart to meet the person on the other side of a conversation before quickly returning to their natural state—away from the glares of people whom he is certain are judging him but to whom he knows he is superior. The actor shows an aura of intelligence and confidence, but it's confidence specifically and only in regards to his intelligence.

The Imitation Game suggests that only a person such as Turing could have accomplished the task of breaking the Enigma code and, more importantly, recognized the importance of the "bloody calculous" necessary to keep it a secret. With lives in immediate jeopardy, deciding whether or not to act upon German intelligence is a moral dilemma, but with the war to be won in the long run, Turing sees the dilemma as one of statistics and probability. Here is a man whom the government needed solely because he was different. That they destroyed his life for the same reason makes Turing's story one of cruel tragedy.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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