Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Mark Strong, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, Allen Leach
The Imitation Game does a marvelous job of weaving many elaborate strands into a complex and thoroughly thought-provoking movie. Using the programming of a traditional biopic – with a fantastic portrayal by Cumberbatch – this flick unravels gay hero Alan Turing’s compelling life.
Decoding Turing’s complicated biography is a monumental challenge. The LGBT community likes to claim his as our own, a genius struck down by homophobia and self-hate. He was surely that, but he was also so much more. Turing was a man with a laundry list of personality quirks we might today label as Asperger’s Syndrome. Most importantly, he created the first computer, which made it possible for the Allies to conquer the Nazis in WWII.
As Britain was losing to Germany, Turing (Cumberbatch) applied to the British military in 1938 to help break Nazi code and crack the secrets of the Enigma machine. At that time, this was the Nazi’s greatest strength, a code-generating machine that reset every night at midnight. It was seen as unsolvable. Turning – a brilliant mathematician, mechanic, and cryptologist – viewed solving the riddle as a great achievement that would also save lives.
To say that Turing was also rough around the edges is an understatement. Infinitely more comfortable around apparatuses and puzzles than people, Turing had a gift for alienating coworkers and friends. The fact that he was also hiding his homosexuality – because he could be arrested or sent to a mental institution – added to the entanglement he was in.
Cumberbatch does such delicate work in his portrayal, he’s been gathering award buzz. Knightley ably portrays Joan Clarke, a self-taught cryptologist whom Turing recruited in a time when women never worked in secret military operations and seldom in academic circles. Strong carefully presents the Chief of British Secret Service, the man surreptitiously pulling all the strings.
The Imitation Game is told in three typical parts – Turing as a young man, Turing as the code breaker, and Turing later in life, a man tortured for his homosexuality. However, this standard, fragmented structure never forces the movie to lose momentum, instead illuminating Turing’s trials. Commonplace movie devices – a late-in-life confession, plots complication that raise the moral stake to the personal level – might seem manipulative in a lesser film. Relatively unknown Norwegian director Morten Tyldum and writer Graham Moore deserve accolades for their work.
That’s because this movie doesn’t preach or beat audiences over the head. Turing’s awkwardness, his scientific pursuits, his ethical challenges, and his homosexuality are presented as a part of a much larger picture. Turing hiring Clarke widens the film’s exploration of the discrimination they both faced.
On the surface, The Imitation Game may seem like a simple biopic with a common structure. However, Turing’s life naturally presents some brain-tickling questions. The Imitation Game is perfectly comfortable getting into the ugly secret machinations of war and international affairs – the horrifying politics of loss – challenging us to solve the puzzle of Turing’s life for ourselves. It’s one of the year’s best films.