One good thing about January (aside from the glorious weather, lack of university etc etc) is that a whole bunch of films are released due to ‘Oscar buzz’. Granted, some of them take themselves a little too seriously, but then you get some real gems, like The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch (he of Sherlock fame) and Keira Knightley.
Set across three periods of mathematician Alan Turing’s life – his childhood, during World War Two and then in 1951 – The Imitation Game follows a team of English cryptologists as they try to break the code of the infamous Enigma machine. Used throughout World War Two by the Germans, the Enigma machine encrypted codes so that even though when they were heard throughout Europe, they can’t be decoded. Which is where Turing (Cumberbatch) and his team step in – if Turing can create a machine that can decode Enigma as fast as it creates codes, then they can help stop the war.
In between these decidedly patriotic and heroic scenes of the war, we are also shown both the miserable childhood of Turing, as well as his downfall after the war.
I would like to try and not give away any spoilers, but to be quite honest I don’t think that’s possible (and is it still a spoiler if it occurred sixty years ago?), since the final scene had the greatest impact on me. To put things in perspective, critics of The Imitation Game have argued that the film tries to put a happy Hollywood sheen on what was unfortunately a rather miserable life and horrific ending for Alan Turing.
But first, the acting. Overall, the acting is definitely strong, and while Cumberbatch does do a superb job as Turing, at times he is almost a little too cold and condescending, as though he is back in the shoes of Sherlock Holmes. From what I’ve read, while Turing was a genius and perhaps peculiar, he was also a rather likeable person who had lots of friends – something that was decidedly not portrayed in the film. So while the writing and the acting were fluid and convincing, this one lapse caused a slight damper to the film.
Of course, being a film about the downfall of Germany, The Imitation Game also reeks of patriotism – as to expected of most war films. Luckily, instead of focusing on the battlefields, this film showed a sophisticated, intelligent perspective on the war – not only men of muscle and courage have the ability to create change. Best of all, it’s a true story.
As hinted throughout the film, Turing was a homosexual, and from a young age he fell in love with a schoolmate, Christopher. Yet from early on, we’re given the impression that something happened to Christopher that not only explains much of Turing’s personality, but also why his machine is named Christopher. (Just as a side note, there is a scene where Cumberbatch implores Joan (Knightley) to leave him with ‘Christopher’, and I swear I have not cried so hard over an inanimate object since Wilson went floating away in the pacific.) Unfortunately, it is Turing’s sexuality that also leads to his downfall, despite the influences that he had on the war (not to mention the birth of computers too).
And this is where the film became a little bit unstuck – despite the atrocities that Turing faced because of his sexuality, The Imitation Game still largely portrays his life story simply as an amazing triumph of war. Which it was, in part at least. Yet it only spends the final ten minutes, and a series of captions, to really acknowledge the horrific treatment that Turing faced. And while Cumberbatch does his best to portray the effects of the medication that he is forced to take for his ‘indecency’, it doesn’t particularly show the full horrors, both mental and physical, that Turing endured. And while the Queen formally apologised to Alan Turing in 2013 and he was officially pardoned, it was too little too late – Turing killed himself a year after he was forced to take hormone therapy.
The beauty of The Imitation Game is that it has obviously sparked a lot of thought and conversation about that era in time in more ways than one. And while it does a formidable job of showing the influence of Alan Turing and his team and it tries its best to portray him in the correct light, it’s also slightly lacking, if only because it doesn’t have the guts to show all aspects of his life story. I would definitely recommend seeing The Imitation Game, but just remember to take tissues.
Have you seen The Imitation Game? Have you heard of Alan Turing? Should Benedict Cumberbatch win an award for his portray? Let me know!