Writer: Graham Moore (adapted from Andrew Hodge’s book)
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Allen Leech, Charles Dance, and Matthew Goode
In 2001, a film called Enigma was released that told a somewhat true story regarding a group of British codebreakers during World War II who manage to break the Nazi Enigma code, aiding in the Allied victory in the war. This film was a good one, but not great and not that memorable. Enigma fell short mostly due to its decision to fictionalize the story slightly and avoid telling the story of the true mind behind the machine that cracks the Nazi code. The Imitation Game rectifies the 2001 film’s error by providing a virtual biopic on legendary cryptanalyst, Alan Turing. Between last month’s The Theory of Everything and now The Imitation Game, the final stamp on American cinema in 2014 seems to be examining brilliant minds in some brilliant ways.
The film explores three key periods of Turing’s life ranging over about 30 years. The majority of the film focuses on Turing’s work with the British government during WWII. Turing’s odd persona causes some hesitation in British military personnel, but his brilliance is evident enough to cause Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) to reluctantly hire him for a secret operation. Turing and a group of other analysts are tasked with figuring out the ever-changing pattern of Nazi communication cyphers. Turing discovers that Denniston’s goals differ with his own approach and convinces Prime Minster Churchill to appoint Turing as leader of the operation allowing him to assemble his own team including a promising young codebreaker Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Turing redirects the team away from their tactics to help him build a £100 thousand machine that he hopes will be able to break the code.
The film also jumps back and forth between Turing’s childhood and his life after the war. These scenes help uncover the complexity of Turing and reveal levels of his inner conflicts that would be hard to explore in the WWII segment of the film. It is also with these scenes that the film adds a layer of subtext on some human rights issues regarding Turing’s need to conceal his homosexuality because of the social consequences unfortunately attached.
The Imitation Game is a very fascinating film and one that hinges very heavily on its performances, which are all excellent. Cumberbatch and Knightley are especially great, giving some nuanced touches to roles that could have felt very artificial. Furthermore, the film feels and looks very authentic, especially in its depiction of the many layers of World War II, most notably the pivotal role of intelligence in terms of how the war played out as well as the impossible decisions that must be made as a result. This film is less about the politics and elements of war and more about the capacity and power of human thought and intelligence. The film’s title is in fact a reference to one of Turing’s publications regarding the human brain and what is meant by the term “think.” In the opening scene of The Imitation Game, we are given access to Turing’s mind as he basically sets us up to play the “imitation game.” Through voiceover, Alan Turing tells us to pay attention, listen, and withhold judgment until he is finished talking. Now these words are technically spoken to an investigating officer in a scene that bookends the film, but they are spoken to the audience as well. Upon the film’s conclusion, we are able to play this game, and furthermore, appreciate a complex, almost poetic line uttered by both Cumberbatch and Knightley that, “sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” A-
The Imitation Game is rated PG-13 and has a running time of one hour and 54 minutes.