The Imitation Game
Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Graham Moore, based on “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, and Mark Strong
If the term ‘Oscar Bait’ was in the dictionary you would find a definition that perfectly encapsulates The Imitation Game: a reputable cast and crew take on the story of a misunderstood public figure in an effort to humanize him/her while making some kind of political statement about the injustices they suffered. This sounds like a negative sentiment, but I did actually really, really like this movie. The Imitation Game is rich with emotional tension and is beautifully put together and acted. The realities of Turing’s life are tragic; by the time the credits rolled I was heartbroken but eager to learn so, so much more.
Alan Turing is introduced to us as an awkward, socially inept genius applying to consult on a top secret project for the British government. Eventually we learn that he and a group of individuals will be working to break the code used by German intelligence to transmit messages. Insisting on working alone, there is friction between Turing and the other men; he finds company in the sole female working to break the code, Joan Clarke. Due to Turing’s determination that his machine would solve the Enigma machine, eventually the group is able to intercept German messages, saving thousands of lives and shortening WWII by several years. Despite the gravity of his professional accomplishments, Turing is eventually persecuted by the British government for his sexual orientation, leaving us with a rather tragic epilogue.
The Imitation Game is a solid film, but it is absolutely held together by brilliant performances, specifically from Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and and Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke. To those of us who (secretly) fan-girl over Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch’s abilities come as no surprise, but I still found myself totally blown away by this performance. He navigates this character effortlessly, adopting a change in tone and vocal cadence, a slouched posture, a slight stutter. It’s nothing that other actors haven’t accomplished, but he is just so consistent. Nearing the end of the film there is a scene that Joan shares with Alan at his apartment; it is absolutely heartbreaking. Prior to this point in the film it’s hard not to pity Alan, but during this brief moment that pity is rapidly transformed into a crushing empathy. I found it incredibly powerful.
I didn’t really fall in love with Keira Knightley’s performance until I saw The Imitation Game for a second time. I left the theater wanting to know more about Joan’s relationship with Turing; I wanted more focus on the injustices she suffered as a woman in this culture. The film was very clearly focused on Turing and his perspective so it wasn’t the proper place for a deeper look into the story as Joan saw it. However, Knightley created a multidimensional character that captured my attention enough that I would have loved to see more of her.
The Imitation Game is structured in a way that critics have had divisive reactions to. The film highlights three distinct periods of Turing’s life: his youth, his time working on at Bletchley Park during WWII, and his persecution in the 1950s. However, none of this is navigated in a linear way. Initially there are title cards indicating which time period we are in, but eventually you are meant to interpret through visual cues. I’ve read criticism that this jumping around is a clumsy plot device that ends up confusing the audience more than keeping them engaged. I could not disagree more; I found it very easy to follow and stimulating in a way that some biopics so often neglect.
That being said, there were a few overly scripted moments or conveniences that I could not ignore. During the exposition, there is a dialog exchange between the generals and the team of code breakers that is so scripted. Every character contributes to the conversation in a way that is just too conveniently explanatory. The suggestion that the audience needs to be told rather than shown the story leaves me with a bad taste. Finally, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve heard the line: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”. It’s a lovely sentiment and certainly a thematic pillar that The Imitation Game is built off of, but it is so on the nose, and said three different times in the film. I understand that the transaction of this sentiment is important to character development but I can’t help but wonder whether there may have been a smarter way to go about it.
Alexandre Desplat put together a lovely score that was just perfect for this film. It absolutely deserves the nomination, though the cultural landscape of film scores is changing. Despite what the Oscar voting may indicate, there is a very active push for more unconventional scores that seamlessly blend into the sound design. Composers like Alexandre Desplat and Dario Marianelli do beautiful work, but I think the future of film scoring lies in the hands of composers like Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, and Mica Levi. That being said, the score for The Imitation Game is lovely.
Final Verdict: The Imitation Game was impressively acted and kept me captivated from beginning to end. Moreover, it sparked my interest in Alan Turing an his contributions to the mathematical and technological world. Despite any imperfections in the film, The Imitation Game offers a peek into a piece of British history that was shrouded in secrecy. The exposure of the way Turing was so shamefully mistreated at the hands of the British government opens the conversation about the injustices suffered by thousands gay men during this time . It’s a powerful story told in a smart, cinematic way. I’d highly recommend it.
Awards Potential: Despite my earlier declaration that The Imitation Game is perfect Oscar bait, I’m not sure that the Academy will bite. The film is nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, Original Score, and Production Design. Best Picture will almost certainly go to either Birdman or Boyhood, so a win in that category seems unlikely. Since before I had seen either films I predicted that the Best Actor competition is going to come down to Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne but I would bet a limb on Eddie Redmayne winning the category. I can see some possibility for The Imitation Game taking home the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar this year; despite some of my issues with a few lines of dialog, the story structure is sound and captivating, it would be a worthy choice.