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Academy Award Best Picture Contender Film Review: "The Imitation Game"

Updated on January 16, 2015

Stirring Portrait of Tortured Genius Alan Turing Is A Rewarding Experience

Out of all the announcements regarding the Academy Award nominations, I was most enthused about the fact that this film is now in the running for Best Picture. While it may be one of the dark horses of the bunch, especially after the other historical drama "Selma" was snubbed for a Best Director nod, "The Imitation Game" perfectly realizes a contentious time in history and sheds light on a man as complex as he is revered.

Benedict Cumberbatch of the critically acclaimed BBC Series "Sherlock" fame truly commands your attention in virtually every frame he is in. Actually, he is used throughout the film and there is nary a scene with which he isn't present. As Alan Turing, the film narrowly focuses in on Turing's character and eccentricities as well as his fervent mathematical genius. Much of the movie's contention arises when Turing clashes with other characters particularly his fellow cryptology colleagues as they desperately attempt to crack the German Enigma code during WWII and hopefully win the war. The movie makes clear early on that Turing is not a team player because he doesn't have an intellectual equal among his peers and his social awkwardness is often derided and made fun of.

In walks Keira Knightley's Joan Clarke who not only rivals Turing's intelligence but who also possesses a whip-smart personality and wit. Initially mistaken as a secretarial applicant due to her gender, Joan quickly and adamantly earns Turing's respect and in the process espouses parts of him that he never knew existed. The film traverses their budding work and, later, personal relationship and many of those scenes are some of the most enjoyable. They allow both actors to really shine in their respective parts and their chemistry never seems misplaced or hollow. Despite this, Cumberbatch retains his "human calculator" persona even if it threatens to break his mind and his spirit.

The flashback sequences to Turing's childhood in English boarding school were also incorporated nicely and added dimensionality to present-day Turing's psychological profile. As a kid, we learn that Turing was frequently bullied. One such scene that struck me was when his classmates forced him under a trap door in the floor of his classroom and would repeatedly stomp on top of it causing young Turing to become intensely claustrophobic. Alex Lawther, who plays young Turing uncannily and effortlessly syncs with Cumberbatch's performance and makes a convincing case for the traumas that would later impact him as an adult. It is also in these scenes that we witness Turing's latent homosexuality that later lead to his untimely undoing.

Matthew Goode of "The Good Wife" and Ozymandias in the comic book adaptation of Alan Moore's "The Watchmen" is deceptively good as lead cryptologist Hugh Alexander. Not only does the film present him as a real Casanova, he butts heads repeatedly with Turing and is the frequent opposition to his work. Early on, Hugh places blame and considerable doubt that Turing's code-breaking machine (Christopher) will actually work. He then pointedly asserts that real flesh and blood soldiers are out risking their lives while he continues to tinker with an expensive and burdensome project. Eventually, Hugh realizes that human minds and not brawn are the best method and chance at winning by anticipating German attacks to avert the most amount of casualties. His third act realization allows for Hugh to come to Turing's defense. Goode and Cumberbatch really do play well off of each other because they are so dissimilar and their dynamic is a fascinating study to behold.

Acting and direction aside, the film also warrants mention of its screenplay. There are some choice lines throughout that really expand and give merit and value to Turing's rationality for creating and inventing. He clearly knew that a machine's mind can never be compared to that of the human brain and all its intricacies, but he was a fervent supporter of technological growth and believed wholeheartedly in the ability for a computer to revolutionize the world and the way we interact with it. To call him a prophet is an understatement. Clearly, with the advent of his Christopher (named after his childhood friend and first love Christopher Morcum) and the Allies favorably turning the tide of the war, he was ushering in a new age - the age of information - without ever realizing that his contribution would be the defining element of 21st century living.

Unfortunately, Turing committed suicide in 1954 via cyanide poisoning after being forcefully subjected to take prescription drugs to curb his homosexual desires for several years. Broken and beaten down, and never given proper absolution for his personal hardships until Queen Elizabeth II's pardon in 2013, Turing was as much of an enigma as the code he spent the majority of his career trying to understand. By film's end, it is quite possible to think that society could have had developed modern day computing 20 years earlier had he lived on to continue his work in the field.

Real-Life Turing, Late 1930s
Real-Life Turing, Late 1930s | Source
Turing and his Bletchley crack-team at work
Turing and his Bletchley crack-team at work | Source

PBS Interviews Cumberbatch on 'Imitation Game'


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