Spoilers Contained Throughout:
Superb is a word I seldom use, but if I were to write nothing else about the movie “The Imitation Game,” while it wouldn’t be much of a post for my blog, it would encapsulate my feelings on the film. After watching it, I am at a loss to explain why it, or several of the other nominated films for Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards, didn’t win, as opposed to “Birdman.” I know some blogger’s, whose work I read and respect, praised “Birdman” as a cinematic treasure to be re-watched, a-la “Citizen Kane,” in order to discover hidden meanings and parts not fully grasped even after repeat viewings, while others derided it as nothing more than ostentatious drivel. Although “Birdman” had a good cast, and some well executed scenes, from the nominated films that I have seen so far, I would have much preferred if “Whiplash” or “The Imitation Game” had won Best Picture.
“The Imitation Game” marked the English language debut for Norwegian director, Morten Tyldom, who was nominated for a multitude of awards for the film. The movie, which has a runtime of 114 minutes, premiered on August 29, 2014 at the Telluride Film Festival. In his screenwriting debut, Graham Moore based his script for the film on the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” written by Andrew Hodges, and won the Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.
The film is more than just a World War II thriller. Yes, it deals with a group of British individuals who, at the time, were amongst the most brilliant minds in the world. Those individuals were given the daunting task of breaking the secret military codes sent out by the Nazis on a machine called Enigma. “The Imitation Game,” however, primarily concerns itself with its main character, the exceptionally intelligent, socially awkward, mathematician, Alan Turing, in a role completely embodied by Emmy winner Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock). Not only did Turing help to defeat one of the most evil regimes in recorded history, but he was the catalyst for bringing to the world, for all intents and purposes, the first computer. (As an aside: Winston Churchill stated that the single greatest contribution made for Britain’s war effort was the work Turing did on Enigma).
The film begins in 1951. Turing’s home has been broken into, his attitude, however, is that of a person who is not concerned. Could it be because as one of the policeman remarks, nothing of value seems to have been taken, or is there another reason? The story is framed by BAFTA nominated actor Rory Kinnear’s character of investigative Detective Robert Nock, who suspects that Turing is hiding something. He begins to research Turing’s past, but the more he does, the more questions he comes up with because Turing’s life is a mystery.
Turing is taken into police custody for something related to the break-in. During his interrogation, he narrates portions of his life for Detective Nock, who at first believes the reason he can’t find anything relating to Turing during the war years is because he was a Russian spy. The voice-over narration, while in police custody, is used as the framework for the film. Graham’s screenplay traverses through different significant parts of Turing’s life. A young Turing, during his formative years, is shown being bullied mercilessly by his classmates at the Sherborne Boarding School, a place where he has only one friend, Christopher Morcom; it is a relationship that will have an effect on Turing for the rest of his life. Most of the film, however, centers on the years during World War II, when he worked in secret for the British government, in a place called Bletchley Park. Located at Bletchley was an organization named the Government Code and Cypher School, which went about trying to decipher the codes transmitted by the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan.
Turing’s main focus while at Bletchley, was to build his own machine that would be able to break the Enigma codes. He first asks his superior, Commander Denniston, portrayed by Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) for the funding for the machine – a request which is denied. Not letting that stop him, he writes a letter to Winston Churchill, and gives it to Mark Strong’s character of MI6 agent Stewart Menzies, to personally deliver to the Prime Minister. Churchill not only authorizes the finances, which are considerable, but places Turing in charge of the code-breakers. His promotion is something that doesn’t sit well with his colleagues, especially the former head of the team, National Chess Champion, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode). Additional members of the group include John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard) and Keith Furman (Ilan Goodman). The only person amongst the code-breakers who likes Turing, is two time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley’s (Pride and Prejudice) character of Joan Clarke, the lone female on the team.
Knightley’s role provides the film some levity. For example, Turing has a crossword puzzle placed in the newspapers, which states that if a person can solve the puzzle in a set amount of time, they should mail it in to the address provided. Clarke is one of the people that solves the puzzle and is invited to take another test. She shows up a few minutes late, and is asked to leave because the man at the door thinks she is interested in becoming a secretary, and that she is on the wrong floor. She not only is on the right floor, but she solves the new puzzle quicker than anyone else in the room. Joan will grow to become one of Turing’s most trusted confidants, and for a period of time, because he is afraid of losing her, she becomes his fiancée. Her parents want her to return home because she is twenty-five years of age, and they feel she should be looking to find a husband to settle down with, not work with a bunch of men at a radio factory. The story of working at the factory is her cover for the vital work she is really doing.
How do the code-breakers finally defeat the seemingly unbeatable Enigma machine? In what way will they use the information to help turn the tide of war in the allies favor? Does Turing eventually earn the respect and admiration of his colleagues, other than Joan? What is the significance of Turing’s childhood friend Christopher Morcom? Those are just a few of the questions that will be answered by the film’s conclusion.
At forty-one years of age, Alan Turing committed suicide. Why did a brilliant man like Turing feel compelled to take his own life? The answer, while simplistic, is a sad one. It was because he was scorned for being gay. Due to intolerant times, he was not only publicly humiliated, but in order to avoid spending two years in jail, he was forced to take hormonal pills. His abhorrent punishment, would not only bring about the end of his life, but deny the world his genius for the many years that he might have lived on, and continued working for the betterment of society. (As an aside: Historians have estimated that the work Turing and his team did, during World War II, saved approximately fourteen million lives and shortened the duration of the war by two years).