Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Previous Previous Next Next
The Imitation Game - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Imitation Game
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-
Special Effects: B+

No one ever utters the phrase "Turing Test" in The Imitation Game, but that's what the title refers to -- the famous test to determine whether who or what you're talking to is a machine or a human. This test is named after Alan Turing, the closeted genius mathematician whose machine, which he named "Christopher", was the first predecessor to today's computers -- and was the device that cracked the code for the German machine called Enigma, which coded all their communications with new settings each day. This Christopher machine was instrumental in winning World War II against the Nazis, and this is the story of the complicated man behind the complicated device.

There's a few shades of Citizen Kane to the structure of The Imitation Game, with Turing telling the story in flashbacks -- although it takes a while to realize that's what's happening, and at least these flashbacks are all in chronological order. But Turing, played here by an excellent Benedict Cumberbatch, is being interrogated by a police officer suspicious of a man whose war records have been rendered nonexistent.

Anyone with an interest in history will know that Turing's ultimate fate is not a pleasant one -- we learn through title cards just before the end credits that he lived for a year on government-mandated hormone therapy, or as he refers to it, "chemical castration" (what phrase could be more creepy than that?), before committing suicide. That's not really a spoiler, though, as it's not the story being told here. What we see here is the story of the massive contribution this man made to the British war effort, the reason he was finally pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013. The work he did for the British government remained classified for more than fifty years, and it is indeed fascinating to see that particular story told here.

Alan Turing is characterized as a particularly alienating individual, perhaps somewhere on the autism spectrum by today's standards. There's a sprinkling of flashbacks to his earlier childhood in school, when he becomes close friends with another boy that gets him interested in decoding as a hobby. They pass notes back and forth in class in code. This is the only friend he makes, though; other boys torment him.

Turing as an adult is singularly focused, and seems to have no qualms saying blatantly insubordinate things to his commanding officer (Charles Dance) whenever he feels it suits him. He has a singular mind for mathematics and knows it; he need not know German to figure out how to crack the Nazis' Enigma code. In fact he feels the other men hired on his team will just slow him down. Eventually he figures out how they can actually be of service to him, and the other men begrudgingly develop a respect for him.

A lot of patience is tested in the meantime, particularly considering how long it takes Turing to design and build the Christopher device, which is gigantic and features countless rotating wheels; and then, how long it takes for him actually to get it to work. Turing gets invaluable assistance from one female colleague, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), whose intellect is so invaluable to the project that Turing proposes marriage to keep her on the team.

The Imitation Game unfolds this story with tightly polished skill, including a subplot involving a Russian spy, presenting a complexity to the story that is satisfying rather than confusing. There are several minor twists to the plot, which we can only presume are sourced from the true story on which it's based, and they manage to avoid the usual Hollywood-movie pitfalls of such twists. Okay, there's a couple of scenes that play out like a typical Hollywood movie, particularly with a score telegraphing a sense of triumph over adversity, but the film is so engaging overall that these minor slips are easily forgiven.

It's always nice to get treated to an untold story behind significant historical events. Surely a lot of artistic license is taken here, but we get the basic gist of the contribution Alan Turing offered -- which was massive. We could all be living in a very, very different world were it not for this man, and it's a travesty that his life ended so tragically. But at least it's some small consolation that his story was finally declassified so it could be told, and The Imitation Game offers him some of the dignity stripped of him half a century ago.

Keira Knightley (left) and Benedict Cumberbatch (center) break the code together in THE IMITATION GAME.

Overall: A-
Leave a comment