Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Imitation Game

     Alan Turing is obsessive compulsive, unapproachable, haughty, and the genius that England needs to win the war. With his brilliant mind, he will design a machine that will decode Enigma, and allow English intelligence to intercept German messages. But in order to do this, he must not only learn to cooperate with people whom he esteems to be so decidedly inferior, but he must hide a fact about himself that could cost him everything. 

     The Imitation Game is a thoroughly well-made movie, excellently capturing the social, governmental, and technological confinements of the era. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing with indisputable perfection and maddening precision. His emotional detachment from humans in general is simultaneously entertaining and frustrating as he struggles to communicate, refuses social interaction unless absolutely necessary, and staunchly insists on being irritatingly literal. All of this creates a character who seems very real and defined, but these same characteristics make him exceptionally difficult to identify with as the protagonist of the story. Throughout, as Turing's colleagues sigh or rage in frustration, I more frequently found myself on their side, than on the side of Turing.

     The film-makers try to offset Turing's lack of likability and complete social awkwardness by surrounding him with more attractive and socially savvy people, particularly within the most prominent supporting cast. For the most part, this works onscreen. However, a little bit of background reading on my part revealed that relatives of the real-life Turing described the real Joan Clarke, portrayed by Kiera Knightley, as being exceptionally plain. It may be one of the few times ever that a more plain and homely actress could actually play a notable role (other than "ugly soccer mom", "evil stepsister", etc.), but it goes to Kiera Knightley. I personally think that was probably a sorely missed opportunity for talented ladies like Sally Hawkins or Ruth Wilson. Even a frumped up Kiera Knightley fails to come off as the type of woman who would marry a gay man because she might not get a better offer.

     While The Imitation Game executes some elements excellently, it fell disappointingly short in other areas. By the time the movie was over, I was left wanting more emotionally and dramatically. Towards the end of the movie, more attention is drawn to Turing's persecution as a homosexual, which is an important fact about Turing's life, but it seemed to steer the story off-point somehow. Personally, I felt that juxtaposing Turing's later struggles with the victories and defeats of breaking the enigma code detracted from both sides. Furthermore, the movie missed significant dramatic opportunities. For example, the ethical dilemma of only picking the most important messages to relay, and therefore allowing some to live and others to die, is given one semi-emotional scene and the narration "We played God." The ending title cards briefly mention that the work of the team was not declassified until recent years, leaving all the members of the team to hide their most important work in the years after the war. This same aspect might have been an excellent opportunity onscreen, but once again, glossed over.

     All in all, The Imitation Game is an enjoyable movie, but failed to be the character movie that it so badly tried to be. The movie makes every attempt to make Turing sympathetic while staying true to his character, yet falls short when weighed next to, say, The King's Speech. It would, however, be unfair to leave this review on a negative note, when The Imitation Game succeeds on several other levels. The Imitation Game masterfully draws a technologically savvy audience into the frustration and incomprehensible limitations of archaic machinery, and for a fleeting moment, the audience shares the moment of costly victory when the machine finally works. While connectable character moments are not plentiful, you can't help but feel the weight when the team recognizes for the first time that they must allow an entire ship to be sunk, even though one of their team member's brothers is aboard.

The Imitation Game is certainly an entertaining and interesting movie, just missing something somewhere to bring it to greatness. Yet I can't quite put my finger on it.

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