I am thankful for Alan Turning. Not only did he help to crack the enigma code and contribute to the Allies winning WW2, but in the process he also invented the prototype of the computer. So without him, there most likely wouldn’t be social media. Without him, I wouldn’t have had an area where I could publish the reviews I wanted to write. I wouldn’t have had as much of a chance to reach a wide audience without him. Until after his death, his work during WW2 had been kept confidential. These days, he finally gets the acknowledgement he deserves. His work during WW2 is at the centre of his biopic The Imitation Game.
The film is divided into three moments of Alan Turning’s life. The first looks at his childhood friendship with Christopher Morcon (Jack Bannon). As a young boarding school student (Alex Lawther), he instantly stood out with his unusual behavior, including separating peas and carrots. This of course attracted the bullies, who went as far as lock him in the crawlspace. The only friend is Christopher, who sees some genius in Alan. It is Christopher who introduced Alan to codebreaking puzzles, which allows them to pass notes with encryptions. It is also through Christopher that Alan homosexuality comes in full bloom. But then tragedy strikes.
The second part and the most important, is Alan Turning’s work cracking the Nazi enigma code. Being a cryptologist, Turning (Benedict Cumberbatch) is hired by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and MI6 Agent Menzies (Mark Strong) to work with other code breakers to find a pattern behind the codes. Knowing how impossible it is for 5 of them to crack a code with billions upon billions of patterns, especially when it changes every 24 hours. So Turning decides to invent a machine that will go through those million patterns in seconds via artificial intelligence. With thousands of lives at risk every day, Turning must race against time to get his device to work.
The last one, and the most tragic, is his prosecution for homosexuality. It starts with a burglary at Turning’s house. This raises the suspicions of Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear), who thinks Turning might be a spy. In the process, he unintentionally exposes Turning’s homosexuality and Turning is arrested.
A notable theme running throughout this movie is secrets. There are the secrets in the form of the encryptions themselves through the enigma. There’s secrets of the mission, which is kept confidential with the punishment of execution if revealed. And then there are secrets on a human level. Throughout this film, everyone has secrets to keep. Turning has to hide his homosexuality to avoid criminal charges. His partner Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) has to hide her mission from her parents. And it turns out; one of them is a soviet spy. Even when they break the enigma, they have to find a way to reveal the messages without the Nazis getting suspicious. When their mission is done, they are forced to destroy all the work they’ve done and required never to contact each other again.
The weight of the film rests mostly on the shoulders of Cumberbatch and he does so with the strength of Hercules. He has the challenge of making the audience sympathize with a guy who’s emotionally distant, arrogant and unable to read social situations. He alienates his team with his refusal to explain his ideas and insistence they are slowing him down. Cumberbatch doesn’t back away from his flaws but allows us to see his virtues. It’s not so much he doesn’t want to explain as much as he doesn’t know how to explain it in a way others can understand. He certainly doesn’t have time with thousands of lives at stake every day.
It is through his relationship with assistant Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) that he’s shows his human side. He is able to overlook her gender to see the genius within her. In return, Clarke helps him warm up to his team. As a result, he becomes more approachable and the other characters contribute more. It’s especially heartbreaking when Clarke finds Turning a complete mess after a court ordered chemical castration.
It’s strange that director Mortem Tyldum is nominated for Best Director because this has to be the least directed movie on the Best Picture category. He rarely does much in terms of style or technique beyond the basics. He just sits the camera in place and lets the actors do their stuff. This may come off as boring to some people. But to others, they will be engaged thanks to Moore’ thrilling script and the charismatic performance of Benedict Cumberbatch. Plus, in an era of Michael Bay films, it’s refreshing to see a thriller that doesn’t resort to flashiness.