Film Review: The Imitation Game

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Reality Bites

HJGKE CEDDES FKSEP WQR- no, just kidding. Mind you, as with any movie, The Imitation Game encodes many messages hoping, perhaps optimistically, that the audience’s skull computers will find the key and unlock them, sauntering into the aisle, clothes stained with coke and crushed popcorn kernels, satisfied that they’ve seen an important and moving story. For Morten Tyldum’s film is a prestige picture in the purest sense. Alan Turing’s reputation needs no rehabilitation but as the victim of an historic injustice (chemical castration leading to suicide, thanks to a homophobic judiciary), he’s earned his sympathetic biopic: a chance for celluloid to showcase his genius and remind a crowd that’s been inadvertently consuming the iconography of his death for years in the form of the logo adorning their Apple tech, that his cryptographic efforts may have shortened the second world war by two years. Bad news for middle-aged men with a turgid combat obsession, denied more war stories for Quentin Tarantino to trivialise, great for the rest of us.

Conscious that cryptography and advanced mathematics may be a little dry for a general audience, Tyldum’s strategy is to make Turing’s frustrating, quasi-autistic, obsessive-compulsive personality a metaphor for the impenetrable German codes the emotionally retarded scientist sought to crack. Human beings are walking conundrums you see. To understand the best of them takes hard work and application. The message is rammed home time and again over 114 worthy minutes, as Benedict Cumberbatch’s haughty brainiac alienates just about everyone, bar Keira Knightley’s fellow code breaker, who accepts his marriage proposal despite everyone, including the Soviet mole at Bletchley, working out he’s a repressed homosexual.

The Imitation Game does a solid job of balancing the expository load with the need for the emotional and dramatic vignettes that will keep Joe and Jacinda Public awake. Interposed between talk of Enigma’s 150,000,000,000,000 possible daily combinations, are flashbacks to Turing’s formative years and the love that dare not speak its name at his Sherborne Public school; a doomed friendship with the boy whose moniker would later be given to his code breaking computer. A flash forward to the early ‘50s, has Turing being investigated by Rory Kinnear’s red-paranoid plod; an inquiry, we know, that will ultimately reward Turing’s hard work and the saving of millions of lives using raw intelligence, with sickness and shame.

Like most biopics featuring a character that comes to an unpleasant end, Tyldum wrestles with how to cover the thorny issue of his subject’s demise. Typically one would shoehorn it in at the beginning; after all you don’t want to leave the audience on a downer, having delivered them from the threat of Nazi persecution, but instead The Imitation Game opts to construct the undesirable finale using psychical montage; separate scenes featuring cyanide and apples, that it’s hoped the audience will subconsciously combine so they’ll leave cinemas sure that they’ve seen the character’s exit, though they didn’t.

Turing would no doubt have preferred a dramatisation of his exploits to focus on his important wartime contribution, rather than his subsequent persecution, but there’s the sense that the movie’s reluctance to touch the less palatable elements of his story is typical of a general timidity that runs through it like a stick of rock. It’s an interesting and reverential take on a fascinating man, and Cumberbatch can be proud of his touching performance, but Tyldum’s film follows the respectful biopic template so precisely that there’s little room for dynamism or risk. In short, it’s rock solid, but Turing’s admirers will say the scope of his achievements demanded more.

Directed by: Morten Tyldum

Country: UK/Fr

Year: 2014

Running Time: 114 mins

Certificate: 12A for Keira Knightley, public school and German idiocy.

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