Oscars 2014 Best Picture Review: The Imitation Game
“Am I a machine? Am I a war hero? Am I a criminal?”
The Imitation Game is a film that presents us a story of legendary scientist Alan Turing. It shows who he is and his life but also sheds light on many things we didn’t know.
The film opens in 1951 with Alan being investigated by detectives Nock and Staehl. This takes the film back to moments of the past starting in 1939. World War II has started and Turing applies to become part of the cryptography team at Bletchley Park. His ability to decode things and his knowledge that the Nazis use a code called Enigma impressed Commander Alasdair Dennison so much, he brings him on with the team of Hugh Alexander, John Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman and Charles Richards.
Turing is difficult to work with as he distances himself from his colleagues. He has an idea for a machine to decipher Enigma but Commander Dennison doesn’t approve. Turing writes to Winston Churchill asking for assistance. Churchill is so impressed with Turing’s idea, he declares him the leader upon which he fires Furman and Richards. He uses a crossword puzzle to find his replacement. Upon which he hires a woman, Cambridge graduate Joan Clarke. Joan however has to deal with her overbearing parents as they don’t want her to work with men and marry immediately. However Turing is convinced enough she’s the right person for the job to the point he provides her a room to stay and work with female clerks while he shares his plans with her.
Difficulties continue as the code of Enigma needs to be reached. First the Germans change the code daily so that the enemies don’t succeed in breaking it. Secondly, Dennison is infuriated with the machine which Turing names Christopher and wants it destroyed and Turing fired. It’s only after the team threaten to leave if Turing is fired that he’s able to continue. Joan is pressured by her parents to either marry or leave her job, to which Turing proposes to her. On top of it, Turing’s team know of his homosexuality but promise to keep it secret.
Even after results happen and Christopher is able to successfully decipher Enigma, the solutions don’t start there. They can’t make it obvious to the Germans that they know Enigma so they have to carefully plan their strategies of attack even if it means considerable time later. Turing learns Cairncross is a spy for the Soviets but is told to keep it a secret or else Cairncross will expose his homosexuality. The place becomes too dangerous for Joan to stay and Turing tells her to leave, outing himself to her and even saying he was only interested in her as a co-worker. Joan leaves angrily. World War II was won and the cryptographers plans are burned.
The film progresses to the 1950’s when Turing was arrested first pursued for hiding confidential information only for them to uncover his homosexuality. His homosexuality was as much of a challenge as his eccentric way of thinking even as far back as his school days when he would be bullied. Fortunately a boy named Christopher befriended him and encouraged him with his coding and shared feelings with him. Unfortunately Christopher died before Alan had a chance to tell him he loved him. At the end, he’s shown with his final struggle with his homosexuality just before his eventual suicide as he’s sentenced to chemical castration: a sentence he chose over two years prison time. In his home where he secludes himself with his own concocted version of the machine Christopher, it’s Joan who comes to him in the end offering moral support and reminding him how significant he was because he was ‘not normal.’
Some would first come to the movie thinking it’s about him and his lifestyle. Some would first think this is autobiographical. It’s more. It presents the story of Alan and his eccentrically intelligent and creative thinking. It presents Alan’s side of the story from beginning to end focusing on the three biggest events in his life: in 1928 as a teenager when he’s first given support of his eccentric imaginative thinking and first learns of his homosexuality; during World War II and the story of the moment and invention that defined him; and in 1951 with Scotland Yard’s trying to link him of a crime only to discover his secret that would lead to his tragic fate. The focus of the story is especially clear at the beginning when Alan asks us: “Are you paying attention?” The film also presents why it was so important for this machine to crack Enigma had to be created as Alan would remind us it wasn’t simply against the War but against time. Especially for the UK which was suffering terribly. It also presents their strategy for helping to win the war as soon as they could.
It’s also very much about Alan the person as it is about Alan and the team working to crack the code. It presents Alan’s intelligence as creative in which he can decipher things through his work on crossword puzzles. It presents Alan as one who also has a very unlikable side including a ruthlessness his coworkers found hard to deal with though they stick with him because they feel he’s the only one who can succeed at cracking the code. They can’t stand him but they believe in him. It especially presents Alan’s homosexuality as for why he was about to go on trial. As he is about to be tried, he looks back on his life for when he was part of the mission to his schoolboy days and his encouragement from Christopher: the one person who truly understood him. It ends with Joan, the one colleague who knew him best and deserves to desert him after what he said to her but comes in the end to remind him of his significance to this world.
It’s obvious that Alan was able to solve Enigma in time but appeared unable to solve himself and even doubt his self-worth just after his sentencing of ‘chemical castration.’ A common thing as we see all too often in history how some of history’s biggest heroes would eventually become rejected by the people and even die lonely. Nevertheless we’re reminded that he still had people willing to stand by him even as he felt worthless. Especially Joan as she reminds him after he becomes a recluse after his defamation: “Do you know, this morning I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up, on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you.”
The movie tries to show more of what Alan Turing did as an effort to combat the war rather than focus on his lifestyle. Actually the movie does show about the struggle with his homosexuality throughout his life. His first difficulty came in high school as he fell in love with his friend Christopher and had to pass notes in his special code to him. We should remember that Alan was not beaten up in high school because he was gay but because of his intellectual eccentricities where it first showed its presence. He had continued difficulty during his work as even though his colleagues were supportive of him, they did remind him he could lose his job and be imprisoned because of it. Joan appeared to be the one who dealt with it best as she was not afraid to be in a sham marriage with him especially since it would help get her parents off her case. Then we see at the end as Alan has to deal with his ‘chemical castration’ which would eventually lead to his suicide at 41. We should remember those were the times. It’s because of the criminalization of homosexuality in the past that we had the pride movements that spawned out of the 70’s and are what they are today.
Benedict Cumberbatch did an excellent job in his portrayal of Turing. His performance was full of dimension for a person who was hard to like and had quite an imagination but quite smart and even troubled in the end. It’s a role where he not only acts off of his actors but us the audience too filling us in on all the details and making us think too. You can tell when Alan as narrator tells us to pay attention. Of the supporting players, it’s Keira Knightly as Joan who shines the best as the one who not only helps decipher Enigma but is the one person who can decipher Alan as a person in the end. The actors making up the cryptography team–Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode and Allen Leech– did great both as a team unit and in their own individual moments. Other standout supporting performances came from Rory Kinnear as detective Nick and young Alex Lawther who did a remarkable job playing the young Alan Turing.
Also deserving of acclaim is director Morten Tyldum. Very experienced in his home-country of Norway, this is actually his first direction of a English language feature and it’s an excellent first-effort. Also excellent is the script from Graham Moore. He did an excellent job in creating the story off of Andrew Hodges’ biography setting the three periods of Alan’s life that defined him most and piecing it all together. It succeeds in keeping us interested. Technical aspects were also excellent such as the set design, costuming, cinematography and the composed score by Alexandre Desplat.
The Imitation Game is a unique story about a scientist who went from a hero to a criminal of his time. It tells the story through his eyes and leaves us both interested and getting us to think as well. That’s the movie’s best quality.