As World War II wrecks continental Europe and spreads throughout the Pacific, a ragtag group of British mathematicians, logicians, cryptographers and linguists stands around a clicking machine each day trying to crack a Nazi code. When it hits midnight, the Nazis change the code’s key and the code-breakers’ work for the day day is rendered useless. The next morning, they start again.
This is the premise of “The Imitation Game” a dramatized biographical film that follows the struggles of mathematical genius Alan Turing as he attempts to crack the Nazis’ code machine, Enigma. Those who know their history will be aware that in the end, Turing built his own unparalleled machine and eventually helped win World War II. But this is more than just a story of Turing’s code-breaking prowess; the film is also filled with flashbacks to other parts of his life. The film draws from his childhood in a boarding school, his days after the war as a strange professor and the last era of his life – when he was criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality, giving viewers a full look at the historical figure whose work saved so many lives.
Although it’s full of over-dramatizations and historical inaccuracies, “The Imitation Game,” directed by Morton Tyldum, is a compelling and intriguing film on a person little-known and seldom appreciated for his great contributions to science and to the war effort.
Benedict Cumberbatch dazzles again with an intriguing performance as Turing – a brilliant but socially inept mathematician with a mission to succeed and a solution to an impossible problem. Keira Knightly shines as well as Joan Clarke, a young woman who accidentally stumbles into an intelligent circle of which she was always meant to be a part.
The film shows images of the British side of the war – children waving goodbye to parents from trains, street workers clearing off rubble from the bombings, families sitting in bunkers with scared faces and flickering lights. The constant shots of London and all its inhabitants in the film never let the viewer forget the era in question. All the references to this somber setting remind us of the worry that pervaded Britain as the country’s situation began to look increasingly dire. The codebreakers’ personal struggles echo this overall frustration, anxiety and fear. The soundtrack, another gorgeous composition by Andre Desplat, infuses the sound of the ticking clock into the film’s score. The feeling of impending doom never fully leaves the viewer.
This very real fear is why the film’s overdramatization of historical events is so irritating. The struggles between the military administration and the code-breakers, apparently, did not exist. Nor did the extensive Hollywood-esque recruitment of cryptographers or Turing’s apparent lack of social grace. Many historians insist that Turing was brilliant, as well as friendly and jovial. While Cumberbatch’s portrayal of this version of Turing was definitely powerful, he might be hindered by his talent for playing socially stunted, yet extremely intelligent characters (for instance, his famous portrayal of Sherlock Holmes). While the decision to show Turing in this stereotypically nerdy role may have created for a more dramatic clash with the film’s other characters (such as the charismatic and charming Hugh Alexander, played by Robert Goode) and the greater goal of breaking into Enigma, it only served to reinforce the idea that the greatest geniuses are shut-ins incapable of working with others. The stereotype is tiring, and in this film, unnecessary.
Many of the film’s most memorable and emotional moments deal not with the drama of interpersonal connections, but also with the team’s achievements as they slowly succeed in their endeavor, as well as the realities of Turing’s fantastic but tragic life. The passion Turing had for the idea of artificial intelligence and automated computing machines is abundantly clear to the audience. The smiles, the gleeful congratulations and the team’s joy at cracking the code were simply infectious. The quiet, empty house where Turing lived his last days echoed with an accepting finality and showed the tragedy of a person who had accomplished so much yet died so young.
Above all, the film gave a newfound appreciation for a figure so often overlooked in greater historical contexts. The last moments of the film show this extremely well and leave the audience with a certain respect for Turing. As Turing and his colleagues bid goodbye to one another in their own special way, burning their files in glee and laughing around the bonfire, a text inlay explains how Turing’s life ended, rather than showing the his suicide onscreen.
In reality, Turing ate a cyanide-laced apple. He was 42. Even though he, as the credits said, cut the war down by two years, spared the lives of about 14 million people and created the idea of the modern-day computer, he died a convicted criminal for being gay.
Nowadays, Turing’s legacy is being rebuilt. If this film accomplished anything, it brought his story to a larger audience in addition to displaying the importance of progress and acceptance of identity in the face of adversity. It is a story of intelligence, diligence and a life cut tragically short.
“The Imitation Game” is currently showing in Amherst Cinema.