The Imitation Game is the English language directorial debut of Norwegian director Morten Tyldum. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as British mathematician Alan Turing. A pioneer in computer science, Turing was an integral figure in cracking the Nazi’s Enigma code that eventually led the Allies to victory in World War II. However intriguing Enigma may be, that story plays second fiddle to Turing’s crisis over his sexual orientation. In a time when homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom, Turing was outed and criminally prosecuted.
The film follows three interwoven timelines in Turing’s life. The earliest is that of young Alan’s (Alex Lawther) first taste of romance with a classmate, Christopher (Jack Bannon). Then there’s his top-secret work with the British Military and the fledgling MI6 at Bletchley Park during the Second World War where he (spoiler alert) cracks the Nazi’s supposedly unbreakable Enigma code using his machine (an early computer protype). Then there’s his life after the war as a professor at the University of Manchester whose career (and subsequently his life) falls to ruin after he is convicted for gross indecency.
At the center of the film is the notion of the Turing Test, a method Turing developed to determine artificial intelligence in machinery. The Turing Test proposes that if a human interrogator were to ask questions of a computer and was unable to determine by the machine’s answers if it is a man or machine then it would be considered “intelligent.” In the narrative Turing attempts to use this interrogation method to determine if he is a bad or good person because of his involvement in the war. But, it also works as a parallel to his double life as a closeted gay man – does the fact that he is technically a war hero, a pioneer in his field, and an all around genius amount to anything if he is also gay? The answer to that question in no. Turing was charged, convicted and subsequently ruined because of his sexual orientation. The film does a pretty sloppy job of getting to this point. Enigma is solved in the second act and only then does any sense of morality come into play. Now that they know the enemy’s move how can the military act on this information without tipping off the Nazi’s that their code has been hacked? What’s more important saving lives or winning the war? And now that he doesn’t need her professionally anymore, can Alan still justify the farce of a romance he’s maintained with Joan Clarke (Keira Knightly)?
Cumberbatch is nominated for both a SAG and Golden Globe for his role as Turing. I think he’s an excellent actor, but this was a pretty standard performance. It was safe, maybe that’s just because of casting – Cumberbatch playing an arrogant, unlikeable, “genius”? Unheard of, right? That being said, I think the acting was the best part of the film. Mark Strong is always a good choice for any spy role and he doesn’t disappoint in this one. Knightly is excellent as the lone girl in the boys club of Hut 8 (the area in Bletchley Park reserved for the scientist, linguists, mathematicians and chess players attempting to crack Enigma). Matthew Goode’s Hugh Alexander is an excellent foil to Cumberbatch’s Turing and the rest of the cast fill their roles admirably. My beef with this film is that it lacks imagination, as evidenced in the casting.
Cinematically, The Imitation Game is pretty lackluster. There wasn’t anything sensational or actually exciting about this film as far as form goes. And the underlying message (one that is incredibly worthwhile) is tacked on almost like an afterthought at the end of the film. The film plays the biopic game perfectly, it has its stars in place, an uplifting message forged in tragedy, political intrigue and fulfills Hollywood’s Anglophile mania. In short, it’s a very good imitation of a great film.