Mar 2, 2015

[Movies] The Imitation Game (2014)

For this particular Oscar season, I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one who initially drew parallels between (or were confused by) The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. Both are generally biographical movies after all and both involve key figures in different fields of scientific study. But the two movies are worlds apart in terms of tone and execution.

The Imitation Game is story that I've been generally curious about since Alan Turing is quite the great geek figure and also an inspiration for gay geeks as well. But his contributions to computer science history tend to be relegated to single sentence summaries here and there and there haven't been too many efforts to really explore his life.

One of the challenges of a movie like this is the fact that few people know what Alan Turing was like. We don't know how he talked and we don't know how he moved about and thus we instead get an actors like Benedict Cumberbatch and we see him and the way he portrays roles. And as much as he brings something new to each on-screen performance, one can't help but see just how consistent he acts and the little quirks of his acting style. Whether or not this did justice to the role is something to be determined by every member of the audience as they finish the movie.

Synopsis: The Imitation Game is a 2014 biographical drama movie directed by Morten Tyldum. The screenplay by Graham Moore is loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

The movie takes place during three time periods - the first being 1951, where we meet an older Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has suffered from what appears to be a break-in at his home. The police quickly investigate the case, and Turing eventually discusses some of his activities during World War II. Thus we flashback to 1939 when Turing offers his services as a mathematician to the cryptography folks at Bletchley Park. At first they seem surprised that he even things he can qualify, but Turing eventually convinces them that his penchant for puzzles is precisely what they need.

And the challenge set before the team is a daunting one - to crack the secret that drives Germany's Enigma Machines.  Being able to understand Germany's secret communications would tremendously help turn the tides in the war. But thus far Enigma has proven to be uncrackable despite the team of talent already gathered at Bletchley Park. But they decide to game on Turing's ideas about a machine-driven solution to breaking Enigma.

Benedict Cumberbatch is Benedict Cumberbatch and I think it's fair to say that he did as much as he could with the role. As much as he did quite a great job in trying to become Alan Turing through and through, a lot of what came forward was very much Cumberbatch. That's not a bad thing in itself, but I suppose it's a challenge one can expect to face when working with an actor as distinct in tone and style as Benedict Cumberbatch. For most, this probably isn't too much of an issue. For others, well, that's a longer conversation.

The time jumps in the movie get a little confusing at times - or at least it wasn't immediately apparent to me how the sort of "present day" story in 1951 was supposed to interconnect with the flashbacks to 1939 and even to the flashbacks to Turing's childhood during 1927. Sure you could tell them apart based on the actors involved and of course the general color tones provide nice visual contrast. But taken all together, the story felt like a bit of a mess since you have three stories in parallel and the instances of switching from one to another rarely connecting in a significant manner.

And that sort of ties into the overall plot, which has a lot of strong moments but also its share of little bits of confusion. There was the clear desire to tell a generally complete story of Alan Turing's life, but the result was pretty much two main points. First you have an exploration of Alan Turing's work during the war and how it relates to modern cryptography. But then you also have a bit of an examination of Turing's gender identity as a homosexual as opposed to anything else. The two stories don't exactly work hand in hand, but each is decent and consistent in its own way.

And despite my being a gay man, the story of his work in the war felt a lot more exciting than everything else. Maybe it's because the LGBT pieces really is put a small part of his life and thus there's not all that much to say about it. The result is a secondary story that feels almost tacked on to the larger war epic, thus feeling a little too cartoonish for comfort.

But on the whole, The Imitation Game is still a beautiful movie and a valuable opportunity to help more people become familiar with Alan Turing. He's a great man who did so much for the world at large and this is something to be cherished. Thus the movie gets a great 4 whirring tumblers of Alan's computational engine out of a possible 5.

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