Not many people knew who Alan Turing was, other than the fact that he was the father of modern computing and related artificial intelligence. As a biopic centered on Turing’s crucial years, The Imitation Game is a stirring film behind his genius and why he remained an unsung World War II hero until recently.
Set between 1939 and 1945, but flanked by plot arcs set in the early 1920s and 1950s, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum gives us a glimpse into three phases in Turing’s life, where each phase reveals a little more about who he was, what he did, and how he helped end World War II by as early as four years. The central aspect has Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) working with British Intelligence as a code breaker in London’s Bletchley Park, the UK’s Government Code and Cypher School. His job is to break and decipher what the Allies referred to as the unbreakable Enigma Code – Germany’s highly encrypted radio transmissions that allowed the Nazi war machine superior naval and aerial assault on vulnerable Allied positions. Assigned to a small group of code breakers including one female, Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley), Turing is initially an outcast due to his reclusive and eccentric nature. With time running out, Turing eventually finds favour in his MI6 supervising officer Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) whose connections with Prime Minister Winston Churchill lands him enough resources to build a machine that has half a chance at breaking the Enigma code.
That World War II ended in Allied victory is retrospective of the final push between the Allied forces and Hitler’s Third Reich. While cinema history is studded with countless war and action films encompassing this era, The Imitation Game, on the other hand, is not a war film and not a single bullet is fired by any of the characters. It is still a period piece and one that had to be told for at least two important reasons. In adapting from mathematician Andre Hodges’ 1983 book Alan Turing: The Enigma, Debut screenwriter Graham Moore saves these reasons for the final thirty minutes of the story, thus limiting the story to a mere countdown spy-thriller, albeit well told in the hands of the director. After saving as many as 14 million lives, why wasn’t Alan Turing a decorated hero? What were the real reasons leading up to his eventual suicide in 1954? And why was his memory granted posthumous honour but only in 2013? The answers are there, some of them shocking, but a little too late in the film which itself is about a story that is told a little too late.
Understandably, Turing’s work within the supposedly non-existent MI6 was classified until recently. The fact that this film was made after the declassification of his contribution makes sense. That being said, the final reveal feels restrained and panders towards social commentary rather than taking the time to venerate a war hero. But if you overlook flaws in the story, including a hokey ‘Eureka’ scene when they finally break the code, The Imitation Game is still a good film with several tense moments; one of which is the juncture the team arrives at when they break the code. It’s a startling moment in the film literally illustrating the power of knowledge as godly.
Thematically similar to the Academy Award winning A Beautiful Mind, with as many glowing reviews and the possibility of a parallel Oscar run, I conquer that The Imitation Game is well made and very well acted for a period piece. Cumberbatch anchors his role with absolute virtuoso in portraying Turing as an unlikable and egotistical individual with superior intelligence, while ultimately exposing his vulnerability as a misunderstood introvert. Together with Knightley, they make formidable pairing depicting interpersonal relationships that are equally charming and tragic. It is indeed a tragic story considering what Turing could have achieved for humanity, only to be utterly disregarded by what is supposedly modern civilization.
8 out of 10 stars