Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sometimes it is the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.

Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game is a beautifully shot, sequenced and acted film about Alan Turing, the unsung British hero who saved 14 million lives by breaking the German Enigma machine during the Second World War.

The word "game" fittingly belongs in the title; at once, it suggests both the eagerness with which the geniuses approach their task as they say, "let's play," and the complexity of a puzzle that master linguists have deemed impossible to crack. War itself is also a game, but no one wins. Turing, who finally succeeds in building his incredible machine - what does he win in the end?

Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch at his best) is a character who is "out of the ordinary." At a professional level, he thinks differently from his colleagues by insisting on designing a machine to decrypt German codes: by using "a machine" to "defeat another machine."

Although it is his success in building "Christopher" that turns him into a hero, Turing has, in many ways, been a hero all his life. Knowing that one sometimes "can’t do what feels good" but instead "what’s logical," Turing lets the first British ship that they discover is in danger sink, tells Joan he doesn't care about her in an attempt to protect her, and even as a child refused to cry in front of his principal in a fierce attempt to hide his feelings for Christopher, his childhood love.

Yet such heroism is not immediately perceptible by those around him, for in taking on the endeavour of building "Christopher," Turing isolates himself, is perceived as narcissistic by his colleagues and also considered a great mystery. Thus, it makes sense that Graham Moore has not structured the film in a linear way, but instead reveals the puzzle pieces of Turing's life through moments from his childhood as the film progresses: the threads of his life are being sewn together because the man, like the codes he cracks, is an enigma. He even seems to understand "electrical brains" better than the subtleties human speech. "I can't judge you," Detective Nock says with a air of stupefaction after he interrogates Turing. "You’re holding on to more secrets than the best of [spies]," Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6, tells him.

Indeed, Turing is considered "different" for another reason in the film: his homosexuality, which is well-foreshadowed through the scenes we see of him as a child with Christopher. The film indeed takes a dark turn at the end by addressing this secret, showing how Turing - a man who had helped end the war early and swore to keep that a secret - cannot even properly use his hands to write out the answers to a crossword puzzle. It is heartbreaking to see how he is being forced to reject what made him capable of such success in the first place: his differences.

The highest commendations must be paid to the actors in the film. Notably, Cumberbatch is extraordinary. He is well-suited for playing sophisticated and calculating British geniuses (Holmes and Turing), and all of his emotional scenes are heartrending. Alex Lawther, the young man who plays young Alan Turing, is also astounding.  Keira Knightley delivers a sharp performance as Joan Clarke, although I sometimes did not buy into her role, just as Turning's running scenes seemed oddly out of character. Yet I think this film takes a bold (and just) stance on women's rights: who says a lady cannot outwit a room of men?

The screenplay maintains a sublime balance of suspense and humor; there is never a dull moment. Both elements are even mixed when Turing has his epiphany about cracking the code, for in doing so, he inadvertently spoils Hugh's date.  "Love just lost the Germans the whole bloody war!"

Similarly, the cinematography of the film is stunning. A particular striking scene is when the rotating wheels of the Enigma machine translate into the wheels of British tanks on the warfront as both rotate in time to a crescendoing ticking clock. Through interspersing clips from the warfront into the film, Tyldum ensures that the audience knows - just as Peter, the youngest codebreaker, does - that "there are actual soldiers  out  there  trying  to win an actual war."

But The Imitation Game is more than just a "war movie" or a "British biopic." It is an important film about remembering, as we are so often reminded in the movie, that it is sometimes "the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine." Such a line is true for Turing, true for Joan Clarke and the results that follow when one heeds it are extraordinary.