The Imitation Game – 2014
Director Morten Tyldum
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Allen Leech
Screenplay by Graham Moore based on the book Alan Turing: The Enigma, by Adrew Hodges
So many of these films come out that are based on real human events. Problem is, no one has the courage to tell the entire story without adding the framework that has been tested on audiences time immemorial. The result is numbing for those who see the film, and it’s also kind of artistic thievery for viewer and the people involved in the real story. The Imitation Game is a good film that is expertly made in many ways. It also is only about 1/3 true. Damn thing is, the stuff that is not true is the same stuff we see in every biographical film.
For the stuff that is true, it also happens to be the best parts of the film. Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) iss brilliant homosexual man. He works with a team of other very smart people in a concerted effort to break down the Enigma code machine that the Germans used to disguise their communications. In the midst of the work, he spearheads an effort to create a code breaking machine which is the precursor to the computer.
During the effort, he bis engaged to Joan Clarke (Knightley). They are engaged, and then he explains to her that he was homosexual. This does not faze her and they continue the engagement until he breaks it off.
After the war, the project is kept under wraps, because, you know, it was very useful and good to have in a pinch. It would not be as useful if others figure out they had it and countered the machine, called Victory. Years later, Turing is revealed to be a practicing homosexual and us chemically castrated. About 14 months later, he is found dead of cyanide poisoning thought but never confirmed as self-inflicted.
This, in and of itself is a fascinating story. There is plenty of tension, drama and heartbreak. For people making movies, though, this is not enough. They have to add a bunch of subplots that, for the most part, drag the occasional character’s name through the mud for the sake of drama and nothing else.
The added parts are those one would find in just about every film:
- A small band of brilliant men working against all odds. Actually it was thousands and the major setbacks were the changes to the design of the Enigma machine.
- A protagonist with communication skills so limited as to prevent him from getting along with anyone until it really counts. Turing really was just a normal adult with a few eccentricities.
- The grouchy commander who wants to shut the project down just because he did not like Turing. Commander Denniston (Dance), by all accounts, understood and respected Turing’s effectiveness and supported him and the team throughout the war.
- The Soviet spy subplot and Menzies (Strong) and Cairncross’ (Leech) involvement. There is no evidence that Turing ever met either of the men during their respective times at Bletchley Park, where the rather large team worked. The inference that Cairncross used Turing’s homosexuality against him to ensure his silence is the kind of useless slander that I am sure makes his family feel just great.
- The naming of the machine “Christopher” (gaydar alert!). It was actually named Victory, in tribute to Polish code-breaker Marian Rejewski.
- Repeated statements on how it is this machine and this machine only that won the war. I think there may have been one or two other elements that added to the effort, like the Manhattan project, or hell, just the Marines.
- The point where they all decide to allow one of the researcher’s brothers to lose his life instead of saving him because of the long game. Not in their job description, and the brother thing was all made up.
All of these changes, and the biggest controversy seems to be not only that they did not make Turing gay enough, but Clark, who was not all that pretty, being played by the visually flawless Knightley. You mean to tell me that Minnie Driver wasn’t available? As for the gay part, this was really handled with some great acting by Cumberbatch. There is also a wonderful progression of scenes of Turing’s childhood build delicately around friendship turning to love and that love being the inspiration behind the obsession with Cryptanalysis.
The unnecessary elements does little to diminish Cumberbatch’s efforts, but it does diminish them. He is working with undeniable acting talent in this film, but most of the other characters bear little resemblance to who their counterparts were in real life. In actuality, they are just caricatures that one sees in every film of its ilk.
Still, I am glad to have seen this film, and I am interested enough in Turing to read up on him more. Should it win any awards? Perhaps for the score by Alexandre Desplat, which is very intense and fulfilling. Cumberbatch is better than all of his fellow nominees, except maybe Cooper. Other than this, no awards are necessary. This film deserves to go into the past and sit there with all the other made up stories based on “actual” events.
(***1/2 out of *****)