English mathematician and logician, Alan Turing, helps crack the Enigma code during World War II.
Year 3, Film #46
THE REVIEW: ”Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” This quote is repeated by different characters throughout the film and exemplifies why a film about codebreaking — a film where many scenes are just a bunch of guys huddled around piles of paper and furiously writing equations on a chalkboard — is so relevant to our daily lives and why it is such a powerful film to watch.
Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is the father of computer science and artificial intelligence in addition to being credited with cracking the Enigma cypher the Germans used to send secret messages during World War II. We can tell through his interactions with co-workers Hugh (Matthew Goode), John (Allen Leech), and his boss Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) that there’s something “odd” about him. Brilliant mind, but doesn’t do well socially. Flashbacks to Turing’s childhood also help to emphasize this point as we see him bullied and with only one friend, Christopher (Jack Bannon). On top of all that, Turing was gay, something that was criminalized during that period in the United Kingdom so it was paramount that it remained a secret lest he went to jail.
I mention all these details about Alan Turing for two reasons: 1) Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the man; and 2) how this relates to the point of the entire film. Starting with Cumberbatch, he does indeed deliver an Oscar-caliber performance (given the SAG nominations released this week, it looks like he’s on the road to Oscar nomination as well). Peter Travers described his performance as “emotionally complex” and A. O. Scott explains it the best way I’ve read, “[Cumberbatch’s] curious ability to suggest cold detachment and acute sensitivity at the same time”.
Turing is such a great character (I don’t know much about the actual person, but I’m going on the assumption that this portrayal is fairly accurate) because he is smarter than everyone else and he makes this fact well known. The work he did was life-changing for all of us and had a deeply significant impact on WWII — historians believe his work shortened the war by 2+ years and saved countless lives by cracking Enigma. The importance of it all is beyond a level I can truly comprehend — I can say I understand how revolutionary his work was, but without having lived through that time, and the time since, I can’t say for sure.
And it’s this idea that makes The Imitation Game so powerful. Turing had to fight for his work and for his life. This story is many things including a war film, a heist film (at least the planning stages of it — in my opinion one of the best parts), and a underdog film (Enimga was “impossible” to break). But above all of that, at the heart of The Imitation Game is a film about a man who had been overlooked his whole life. A man who was successful in life but lacked a true purpose or meaning to it. By the end of this film we see that Alan Turing achieved that. Even if no one else could know and the team at Bletchley Park that broke the unbreakable code would remain secret for 50 years, Turing felt accomplished. And as an audience that’s what we feel as the credits start to roll. Despite being persecuted for his sexual orientation and unable to tell people what he did, there’s a certain level of optimism that I find endearing. At the end, Turing finally realized the true meaning of what his mother told him so many years ago, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
THE TAKEAWAY: This film is a clear Oscar contender for many obvious reasons, first and foremost being this is an entertaining and enjoyable film that also packs a big emotional punch to it. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a very nuanced and dichotomous performance as cryptographer Alan Turing that is worthy of a nomination (Eddie Redmayne is still my favorite to win the Oscar for his portrayal of another Briton, Stephen Hawking). If you’re like me and love films based on true stories (especially war stories) than The Imitation Game is right for you. Not your cup of tea? Well, The Imitation Game will still delight thanks to its deep and touching story about what it means to fight for your life and your life’s work.
The Imitation Game opened in limited release on November 28, 2014.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5