Is The Imitation Game worth the hype? Yes and no.
Alan Turing: “I like solving problems, Commander. And Enigma is the most difficult problem in the world.”
Commander Denniston: “Enigma isn’t difficult, it’s impossible. The Americans, the Russians, the French, the Germans, everyone thinks Enigma is unbreakable.”
Alan Turing: “Good. Let me try and we’ll know for sure, won’t we?”
Based on the true story of Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), a cryptanalyst and the father of computer science, The Imitation Game tells the story of how the Enigma machine (a tool used by the Germans during the Second World War as a way to send coded messages to each other) was deciphered by Turing and his team of code breakers in a race against time to end the war.
The Imitation Game is pretty much what you expect from biopics. It ticks all the boxes. Good cast? Check. Good performances? Check. Well made? Check. Decent story? Check. Slightly clichéd? Check.
You get my drift.
There’s no doubts about its quality or efforts but on the other hand, it’s a straightforward, paint by the numbers tale and that puts me on the fence a little. However, the performance of Benedict Cumberbatch makes this film engaging and worthwhile.
The film utilises flashbacks to key events of Turing’s life, focussing on his childhood when he was at school, his code breaking days at Bletchley Park during World War II and finally in the 1950s when he was arrested and prosecuted for being a homosexual which was at that time, a criminal offence. The film nicely balances out these elements and gives Cumberbatch a fantastic platform to express and go through the motions as Turing.
When we first see Turing in his element, he is young with a steely determination when he’s interviewed for a job at Bletchley. As first impressions go, he appears a little arrogant and maybe a little sure of himself. He likes to solve puzzles but wasn’t a linguist which was the traditional way of breaking foreign codes. But what you are ultimately left with is somebody who is clearly smart in his field and is socially awkward, refusing to work with the team that was already in place. Judging by the flashbacks, his tormented childhood by school bullies discouraged him with exception of Christopher, a fellow student who befriends and helps him to put his gift and talent to good use.
If The Imitation Game achieves something in painting Alan Turing as a tragic, misunderstood war time hero, then it hits all the right notes, especially when dealing with the issue of his homosexuality. It becomes a battle of Turing’s inner self between his contribution to his work and his secret and acceptance in the world. Because of his sexual preference, somehow that made him less of a human being. Offensive slang words are openly used, illustrating the negative attitudes to homosexuality during that time. If you were to be arrested for such an act (or gross indecency as the film labels it) it was either two years in prison or to take oestrogen injections, a form of chemical castration which had unappealing side effects. It’s because of that attitude that essentially overshadowed Turing’s efforts and contribution in the war which is the real shame of it. Cumberbatch’s emotional weight, Turing’s obvious attachment to his work and machine (for story purposes, nicknamed Christopher) and Alexandre Desplat’s moving score really does push all the necessary buttons.
“Do you know, this morning I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up, on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. Now, if you wish you could have been normal… I can promise you I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.” – Joan Clarke
With exception of Mark Strong as Stewart Menzies and Charles Dance as Commander Denniston, it’s very light on the spy aspect. The Imitation Game is more like the alternative look to the spy game, replacing guns, misinformation and clandestine meetings with code breakers. Don’t get me wrong – you always get a sense of it but there is definitely a greater focus on the social attitudes and principles during the war. Therefore don’t expect Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The character of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) is a case example. She was essentially a woman playing the game in a man’s world. Despite achieving a degree in mathematics, when she answered the call of solving Turing’s crossword puzzle, she wasn’t allowed to be in the test room as if someone was saying “how can this woman solve this complicated and highly sophisticated exercise? She had help, probably from a man!” She suffered pressures from her family and what they envisaged for her life – married, housewife with children instead of being an undercover code breaker at Bletchley. Determined not to lose her influence, Turing proposes but never married in the end, knowing he couldn’t give her the life she ultimately wanted.
But what this film portrays is the acceptance of your talented gifts which makes this relationship between Alan and Joan interesting. Turing could easily identify the outsider aspect with Joan, trying to stand on equal terms and to prove people wrong. Joan on the other hand appreciated Turing for what he was. He was different and didn’t see the world like everyone else nor did he conform to it. They both defied what was expected of them. Yes the film handles the aspect in a clinched way but that speciality between them outlined how much they valued each other.
“Do you know why people like violence? It is because it feels good. Humans find violence deeply satisfying. But remove the satisfaction, and the act becomes… hollow.” – Alan Turing
What stops The Imitation Game from being a 5 star experience is its historical accuracy. Practically every film “based on a true story” is guilty of that fact and I completely understand that creative and artistic liberties have to be made in order to give scenes more dramatic weight. In fairness it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the film or take away Turing’s accomplishments but the fact that the film solely attributes Turing for breaking Enigma when in fact the Polish did it first (they ran out of resources and handed over their breakthrough methods over to the British) feels a little bit of a forgotten disservice. Surely a collective and collaborative mention should have been included?
Whilst my review won’t go into every single historical fact, in terms of the plot occurrences, it could have been a bit better.
Turing constantly face opposition from Commander Denniston which I didn’t see any reason why. They were running out of options and time so why not give Turing the benefit of the doubt to let him do his work?
Because the film is primarily focussed on Turing during the three critical moments of his life, it minimizes the essence of what it meant to be a code breaker. It takes a soft approach. It would have been great to see more deciphering techniques and teamwork between the code breakers. We see their contrasting fortunes from their frustrations on the project to their banter in the pub. But I was more interested in seeing what made their solutions so effective. Joan was hardly seen around her male counterparts until the “eureka” moment, a scene which was gripping yet could come across as a bit simplistic.
The Imitation Game is a solid, entertaining British film. It’s right that the film is recognised for its dramatic performances, in particular Benedict Cumberbatch who shines in the role as Alan Turing. But ultimately once it ends you may feel you’ve seen better movies.
Yes the film takes factual liberties but I see it as a platform to read further into Turing’s story and the war effort as a whole.
Once the hype dies down, it’s still worth a watch.