Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Film Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

© Studiocanal  | Source: WIRED.CO.UK
UK; 114 min.; drama, biography, thriller
Director: Morten Tyldum
Writing: Graham Moore; based on Andrew Hodges’: Alan Turing: The Enigma
Cinematography: Oscar Faura
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, James Northcote, Tom Goodman-Hill, Steven Waddington, Alex Lawther

Machines can never think as humans do but just because something thinks differently from you, does it mean it's not thinking? – Alan Turing

There is no doubt that historical accuracy in movies is debatable. After all a movie wants to tell a story and provoke thought, rather than document mere facts – unless it’s a documentary of course. In this fashion The Imitation Game wants to give us a glimpse into the tragic life of one of the most important, yet seldom acknowledged figures of modern science: Math Genius Alan Turing here portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. During WWII the young prodigy is employed by the British war office to crack the German Enigma code. As a self-confident loner he finds it difficult to collaborate with his team of code breakers – especially when he enlists the help of a woman, Joan Clarke portrayed by Keira Knightley, with a knack for crossword puzzles. However, the unlikely alliance of riddlers is successful in the end, Turing invents the first computer, and the researchers become the unsung heroes of the war. This episode of Turing's life is framed by a narrative set in the early 50s which addresses his private life as a homosexual and thus delivers the tragic twist to his tale. It is furthermore supported by flashbacks to Turing’s school years, where he met his one true love Christopher.

The Imitation Game tells the story of a difficult time and a group of people working on difficult things, but most of all it tells the story of a man living a difficult life. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the delicate isolation of Alan Turing with an almost autistic quality that even exceeds his Sherlocky quirkiness. He makes you feel for a guy who seems to have no feelings whatsoever and is at best socially awkward, at worst a machine or "monster." The isolation of Turing, it seems, is deeply rooted in secrecy, which will involuntarily become the motif of his life. It's therefore also a major motif of The Imitation Game. While the effect of personal as well as private secrets on Turing is depicted well, the elaboration of the plot is lacking in other areas.

One area to name is that of interpersonal relationships. Just as Alan Turing, the film seems to have a hard time developing plausible, significant connections between people. The tight-knit group of co-conspirators for the British government comes about from one moment to the other without the passing of time or a bonding event included in the plot. Although seemingly a loner by conviction, Cumberbatch's character listens to the advice of his then fiancée and makes friends with guys he thought of as nuisances only hours ago. Likewise, the entire storyline of Turing's homosexuality comes out of nowhere for people unaware of the math genius' life story like myself. Flashbacks to his boarding school days, where he was close to a boy named Christopher, and his awkwardness towards people, especially women, in adulthood, paint a picture of social seclusion rather than suppressed homosexuality. There is no revelation of romantic closeness or warmth throughout the movie and only when spelled out on paper or in speech, does this important feature of Turing's personality become apparent.

What the picture is lacking in plot development it makes up for in emotion. While I’ve talked a lot about flaws in the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed it while watching and that – in the end – is what counts. The tragedy of Turing’s life is played out beautifully. The math professor with the secretive past, it seems, randomly becomes an interest for law enforcement. They dig so deep into his life, which the government enforced secrecy on, that every aspect of the genius is laid bare. Consequently, in what I felt was a clear betrayal and ungratefulness of the British government, Turing is then convicted for indecency. Given the option of a prison sentence or hormonal therapy to cure his homosexuality, Alan Turing chooses the “cure”. One is close witness to the deterioration of Turing in a series of scenes made up of facial close-ups and shots focused on his movement. Cumberbatch’s face paints the agony of a guy, who rejected to go to prison to stay close to “Christopher”, the machine he created in his love’s legacy. The final shots tear at your heartstrings with a contrast of factual information of the desperate end of a tragic life, while showing him at his moment of triumph: Enigma cracked, government pleased - here’s to a final hurray with my crew!

With award season upon us, we are once again looking for greatness in film - for the complete work of art or an extraordinary performance by an individual. The Imitation Game has it all. Eight nominations in major categories speak for themselves. The nomination as best picture honors the collective that worked on the movie on-screen and off-screen and the performances of Cumberbatch and Knightley are recognized as well. Rightly so.


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