One more role like Sherlock Holmes and Alan Turing in THE IMITATION GAME and Benedict Cumberbatch will have the market cornered on roles involving antisocial genius assholes. That’s fine by me, because in both Sherlock and The Imitation Game there’s an undeniable watchability in Benedict doing his smarter-than-you-and-knows-it-too routine. It also helps when the content surrounding the character is excellent as well, as it most certainly is in The Imitation Game.
It’s World War II, and the allies are not exactly doing the best against Nazi Germany. What’s worse is the Germans are using a machine called Enigma to change the secret code of their messages every day. Cumberbatch’s Turing is brought on board to crack Enigma and help win the war. Nearly every scene in the movie establishes Turing as a man nearly impossible to get along with. He insults with his immense intelligence, takes words and questions far too literally, and prefers working alone on his own tasks instead of the group that is dedicated to cracking Enigma. It’s not necessarily out of intentional spite, although there is certainly moments it is, but more so just how Turing’s brain is wired. As the group of codebreakers focus on cracking each separate day of Enigma’s encrypted messages, Turing sees the bigger picture. The only way to crack the machine is with another machine. Being in the days before computers, Turing is basically building the computer’s predecessor. No small feat, especially alone.
The stakes being appropriately high, tempers run hot and it seems unlikely Turing will get to finish his machine and show everyone just how wrong they are. But the race to crack Enigma is only part of the movie. At its heart The Imitation Game is a movie about Alan Turing himself. Flashbacks to Turing’s youth show more of his inability to connect with fellow humans, though much has to do with those very same humans tormenting him for being different. Turing finds a friend who introduces him to cryptography, and delivers the line that is the beating heart of the film, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” This line is repeated twice more in the movie, each time its delivered the effect is more powerful. One can imagine an alternate reality where Turing isn’t a stubborn ass and conforms with the code cracking group to just get along. Turing is accused throughout the movie of jeopardizing the entire project by not getting along, but he’s simply operating differently. In doing so, Turing ends up saving more than 14 million lives.
One of the film’s most prominent themes has to do with our tendency to fear and persecute those who are different from us, and showing the costs of that fear. In Turing’s case, it nearly meant the loss of a war and millions of lives. Later in his life, the third period of time the movie focuses on, Turing is caught engaging in homosexual acts, still a criminal offense in England at the time. He must choose either chemical castration, or being jailed. Turing chooses the castration in order to keep working, but it’s clear he suffers nonetheless. How much more progress was lost due to this? The film is careful not to show the issues as black and white. It’s not only Turing vs. the world, there are people who understand him and try to help him. A childhood friend and an excellent Keira Knightley as crossword puzzle maestro Joan Clarke chiefly represent the ones on Turing’s side.
The film smartly outlines not only the violence from the war, but in everyday interactions between individuals. War is tragic on a large scale, but how many tragedies occur day to day between each person, and at what cost? The Imitation Game is a highly enjoyable film with outstanding performances that manages to say much of human nature, and how far we’ve progressed since, and how far we still have to go. I give The Imitation Game 4.5 crossword puzzles out of 5
Score: 4.5 out of 5