With Oscar season well upon us, The Imitation Game definitely has a hat in the ring. It’s a historical drama primarily set during World War II, about a man many people may only know by name, but not by deed. I had heard of Alan Turing and vaguely knew his role in WWII, but I didn’t know any of the details. The Imitation Game tells an engaging story, as well as giving a bit of a history lesson.
Alan Turing, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, is hired by Britain’s top secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchly Park to help unlock the Enigma Code during Word War II.
Ok, an Enigma Machine is, most simply put, an electro-mechanical roto-cipher machine used to decipher the code the Germans used in WWII to send messages regarding their actions during the war. The idea was, that if you could decypher this code, you would know everything the Germans were doing – and going to do – on a daily basis, therefore the Allies would get the jump on the Nazi forces. Alan Turing constructed a machine – what would later evolve into what is said to be the first form of computer. (Still confused? Then just see the film.) Of course, time was of the essence, so the sooner they could accomplish this task, the better.
But the secrets were not just held by the Germans. Britain kept Turing’s job, and his team, a secret from the world for decades after the war. And Turing had a secret of his own as well. He was gay, at a time when it was still against the law in England.
The film sets us up in present time – 1951 – then flashbacks to Alan Turing’s youth while at school, and then to 1939 at the beginning of the war. These three periods interweave to tell the story of Alan Turing, a sort of uber logical thinking man with poor social skills. He’s not terribly unlike Benedict Cumberbatch’s other self-absorbed character of Sherlock Holmes, but his Turing is far more naive about certain human interactions rather than rude. But Cumberbatch here is quite excellent, showing his awkward brilliance with still a degree of sensitivity and emotion. He keeps his attraction for men to himself, lest he be vilified and arrested.
The cast is wonderful, and if you ever had any doubts about Keira Knightly, I’d say she is quite good here as Joan Clarke, the only woman on Turing’s small team of decoders. Also great is Matthew Goode (remember Ozymandias from Watchman?) as Hugh Alexander, the next most brilliant of the team; also Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech (from Downton Abbey), Charles Dance and Mark Strong.
But indeed it is Cumberbatch that carries us throughout quite brilliantly. We feel his desperate struggle to create a machine that will decipher the code, while everyone around him doubts his efforts. Genius is indeed often misunderstood.
The two story elements in The Imitation Game; Turing and the decoding, and his homosexuality, are handled deftly and with relevance. And based on what they filmed, I found that they were pretty accurate about the facts after doing a bit of research. I learned a little something. That’s never a bad thing.
There is surely to be some Oscar talk for Cumberbatch here. Perhaps an adapted screenplay nom? We’ll see. Also a fine job by director Morten Tyldum, his first English language film. He directed a crime thriller film called Headhunters a few years ago that you should see.
The Imitation Game gets a solid four kittenhands. It should definitely be on your must see Oscar list for this year.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, looking forward to Tim Burton’s Big Eyes.