The Imitation Game

Rated M

The Imitation Game is the first English speaking film of Norwegian director Morten Tyldum and an Oscar nomination for best director is well deserved. Based on the true story of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), an eccentric, socially awkward genius mathematician who is tasked with breaking the code to the German encrypting machine called Enigma during World War II. It is a riveting story where the stakes are high and the obstacles seemingly impossible to overcome. The film takes an interesting late turn in focus, becoming less about the cracking of the Enigma, and more about the personal struggles of the lead character and his mistreatment by his country later in his life.

It is an extremely interesting story as most true life war stories are. I was hooked from my first viewing of the trailer. There’s something about tactical war films where high powered commanders and scientists and even nerdy mathematicians effectively turn the tide of the war from safely behind the front line. The politics of how a socially awkward but determined academic handles the gritty, hard-nosed Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) and the dark MI6 agent Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong) makes for great drama. Add to this the complexities of how Turing must overcome his social awkwardness to win over the rest of the team on staff makes for some real laugh out loud moments.

Nominated for numerous Oscars, the film won one for the best adapted screenplay by Graham Moore (who also was the Executive Producer). Typical of all adaptations of books and true stories there are numerous critics of the artistic liberties taken in presenting this version of Alan Turing’s life. All stories need to be specifically adapted when presented as a feature film designed to entertain for 90 to 120 minutes or so. Characters must be combined for example, conflicts must be exaggerated and over-dramatised in order to make sure people are entertained enough to sit through it and recommend it to others. However, I somehow feel that Alan Turing (the man) was over simplified in many ways into almost a cartoon-like character.

The cinematography by Óscar Faura is excellent. The choice to use traditional Kodak film stock in leiu of the ever-growing use of digital film cameras seems a deliberate choice due to the fact it is a period piece where the resulting film grain is quite appropriate. There are many low-light scenes indoors and outdoors during a period of history in England where blackouts were enforced. Faura shows a skilled hand in lighting such scenes. Colour choices are also carefully handled with inter-cutting of the three distinct, separate time periods of Turing’s life throughout the course of the film. The way this was done was quite clever as well, reminiscent of how Danny Boyle seamlessly jumped in time continuously during his 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire.

Cumberbatch is deserving of his best leading actor Oscar nomination, I have issues with how his character is written but not how Cumberbatch portrays the character in the script. Keira Knightley (nominated for best actress in a supporting role) also puts in a great performance. She plays Joan Clarke, a brilliant young mathematician who is hindered by the male dominated prejudices of the era. While there has been criticism from Andrew Hodges (author of the book from which the film is adapted) about how her character has been given too much glamour and importance in Turing’s life, Knightley is an integral part of this film’s success. Supporting roles from the rest of the cast are also very good, with Matthew Goode playing Hugh Alexander, another brilliant mathematician who fits the role of the stereotypical debonair hero lead character but has to play second fiddle as he is overshadowed by the brilliance of Turing. Charles Dance is very well cast as Commander Denniston as is Mark Strong, playing the MI6 agent Menzies. The young Turing is played skilfully by Alex Lawther.

The visual effects are subtle and nicely executed predominantly by London based studio BlueBolt. The editing by the very experienced William Goldenberg is also very good with scenes set in 1951 cutting directly to the 1940s, then to the 1920s and back again to the 1940s throughout the course of the film. This is done with minimal use of titles yet works seemingly without effort. Credit here must be extended to director Tyldum, cinematographer Faura and of course the production, costume and art design teams. Colour timer Stefan Sonnenfeld does a great job as well.

Alert: contains spoilers beyond this point:

Through the Narrow Gate

Alan Turing was undoubtedly a war hero. Having decrypted the undecryptable codes of the German forces during World War II, he has been credited with shortening the war by as many as 4 years. This means he had a hand in saving millions of lives. He undoubtedly was a mathematical genius, being widely recognised as the father of modern day computers. As mentioned, I believe he has been unfairly portrayed by writer Graham Moore, being reduced to somewhat of a cartoon-like character; a slightly less autistic Rain Man of sorts. Cumberbatch adds an authenticity to this depiction of Turing with a performance that makes him quite likeable considering how rude he can be to those he deems unworthy of his genius. In the film, he is a character completely lacking in social skills. In what is used as a major plot point towards the end, we also discover he is homosexual.

There are many interesting themes that are explored in this film. There are moral questions posed for the audience to really grapple with. There are also themes of sexism, how Knightley’s character Clarke is hindered by the thinking of the era where women’s places are at home as housewives and not as single, intelligent individuals, capable of their own independent careers. Bullying is a prominent theme too, scenes from Turing’s childhood in boarding school paint a picture of how those who don’t comply to the norms of society are treated as outcasts.

The most obvious theme that becomes the central focus of the story once the main story line of the cracking of the Enigma has been achieved is that of the social attitudes of the time toward homosexuals. After Turing’s duties to the military are over, he is sworn to secrecy. His heroic influence on winning the war is thus never recognised and later in his life he is charged with indecent homosexual behaviour after soliciting a male prostitute. He is forced into a decision by a judge between jail time and chemical castration. While all I’m sure would agree this to be quite barbaric, the injustice is amplified due to the fact that this has been inflicted onto a man that has served his country heroically.

One can almost see a pro-homosexual political message as a motivation for writing Turing’s character this way. Nothing hides the fact that he was poorly treated however. Putting thoughts of a political agenda aside I think it is best to focus on why this portrayal of Turing has him as tormented by his homosexuality. Is it due to his boarding school traumas of being bullied and how the loss of his best friend Christopher (Jack Bannon) shapes him into a social misfit as an adult? He even names his elaborate life’s work, ‘Christopher’ (the code breaking machine).

I think it is interesting to note that there is a blaring lack of a healthy father-figure throughout the film. Commander Denniston is whom he must answer to but the commander is a bully himself, hell-bent on relieving Turing of his post. In a flashback scene where young Turing is told of Christopher’s death by his headmaster (Laurence Kennedy), the scene mimics the earlier scene where the adult Turing is being interviewed by Commander Denniston. The headmaster sits behind an intimidating desk yielding his power in a military Machiavellian style, just as Commander Denniston had. When Turing refers to his mother, he quotes her as being supportive in an obliging way but there is never a mention of his father.

The lack of good father-figures is a strong problem that faces the world of today and something I thought quite obvious as a contributor to the problems of the Turing of this film. By contrast, the only authoritative figure that shows compassion to Turing is Detective Robert Nock (played by Rory Kinnear) who in one of the final scenes has a police interrogation-style conversation with Turing. This scene is a mirror-image of the two scenes mentioned with Turing’s headmaster and with Commander Denniston. Turing is even facing the opposite direction than he was in the other two scenes. There is a less intimidating table between he and the detective as Turing finally bears his soul to him. An interesting and cleverly made film.

Rated M

Sexual references but no nudity. Mature themes. Mild violence with a punch thrown and some war scenes. Historical smoking.

Miguel is a filmmaker specialising in visual effects and animation. He studied at the Australian Film, Television & Radio School (AFTRS) where he now teaches casually for their Open Program for kids and teens. He established Level Eleven Media in 2011 and has worked on a variety of short films, music videos and corporate shoots. He has a deep passion for animation and all films that make an impact! He loves the craft of storytelling from script to screen. He can be found at his local public school teaching catechism to kids on Tuesday mornings. He finds it extremely awkward referring to himself in the third-person narrative so will now stop doing so.


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