Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2014
DIRECTOR: Morten Tyldum
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Oscar Faura
WRITER: Graham Moore
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
If you use a computer today or you’ve ever heard of the Turing test, which is meant to tell the difference between a machine and a man, then you have Alan Turing to thank for that. What you may not know is that Turing also worked for Bletchley Park, a central location for codebreakers during World War II. “The Imitation Game” sets out to tell how Turing built a machine in order to break the German Enigma machine that encrypted important information.
The Enigma was considered to be completely unbreakable since there were millions upon millions of code sequences that the machine used to encrypt messages. It also didn’t help that at midnight every night, the Germans reset the code, making any work done by codebreakers in Britain obsolete by the end of the day.
Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) came up with the idea for a machine that could possibly break the messages within minutes. The only problem is that he is socially awkward and not well liked by his commander (Charles Dance) or his team, all of whom seem to want him to fail. Only when Turing can start to get along with his small team will he be able to get the help needed to complete his machine.
The movie also focuses on Turing’s homosexuality. While the movie mostly focuses on his attempts to build his machine, named Christopher, the film also points out Turing’s attempts to keep his sexuality a secret. This is in a time where being a homosexual was not only unacceptable socially but was also against the law in Britain.
The movie jumps around between three time periods. The main time period is Turing’s time at Bletchley Park, showing him develop his machine and his relationship with his team. The filmmakers particularly focus on the relationship he had with Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley), an extremely intelligent woman who had to help with the project in secret due to the fact that women weren’t exactly noted for their intelligence in the ‘40s.
The other time period is during Turing’s younger days where he is falling in love with Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon), the kid that he would name his machine after. While I understand that they were trying to make a focus point for Turing’s homosexuality with these scenes, I have to admit that I don’t think they are needed. The rest of the movie does not shy away from Turing’s sexuality, so I just felt like these scenes were more repetitive than anything else.
The final period is during the time that Turing was investigated for being a homosexual. These scenes are particularly effective at showing us just how intolerant we were of the homosexual community. After seeing that Turing’s machine literally saved millions of lives, it is sad to see how the government treated him simply because of his sexuality. Also sad is the fact that this is still a relevant issue by today’s standards.
This movie is driven by the performances, particularly those of Cumberbatch and Knightley. They are the central anchors of the movie and without their confident performances, the whole thing would have fallen apart. The movie also has plenty of wonderful supporting characters and everyone pulls their own weight.
Now, I must bring up one major problem with the movie and that is the numerable historical inaccuracies. For example, the movie portrays a small, ragtag team of cryptographers. In reality, it was a pretty sizable team and part of the problems with what would ultimately become Turing’s machine had already been resolved before the war even began.
There are also plenty of moments in the movie strictly for the sake of drama. This includes scenes where a character has a brother serving that the machine could potentially save. This character’s real life counterpart never had any such brother. Therefore, you should go into this movie in order to get an idea of what happened, but then look up the real story when you get home, the irony being that you’ll probably use a computer built on ideas set forth by Turing.
The movie gives a strong story with even greater performances that makes the whole thing work as a unique WWII picture. Cumberbatch, in particular, proves once again why he is one of today’s best leading men. Be warned, though, that the story is more “inspired” by true events than actually “based” on them as the film suggests at the very top of the movie.