Movie Review: The Imitation Game


“You’re too much of a genius, Alan Turing! We have to throw you in jail!” Logical. Image via Zap2it

As part of Oscar season, it is customary that at least one film is made that is set in or around World War II, and filled with British accents. So if you are going to be the one to make this film, you might as well try to make it good. While The Imitation Game isn’t transcendent, it succeeds at eloquently telling an engrossing life story into under two hours.

On the surface, Alan Turing, played with perfect robotic expression by Benedict Cumberbatch, doesn’t seem like a hero. While he didn’t invent the computer, and his story ends tragically, his life and his story are important, and The Imitation Game does everything it can to highlight that.

The Imitation Game is set as  Hitler lobs his bombs on England, forcing innocent Londonites to hide in bomb shelters and subway stations. The only way the British Army could possibly gain any sort of tactical advantage is to infiltrate Germany’s secure Enigma code. Turing is brought in by a reluctant general (Charles Dance, who I will continue to call Tywin Lannister until the end of time) to break the so-called unbreakable Nazi code. Turing might be a genius but, as these films go, he is also unpredictable. Watch out! We’ve got a free spirit on our hands!

A lot of the heavy lifting done here is based off of the fact that The Imitation Game is based off of such a fascinating story. Because it gives you the sense of what it was like to be alive in Britain during this time, it is more than merely a Wikipedia entry. While the British spent a lot of time running for their lives, they were also just pretending that everything was normal. Just because there is evil afoot, that doesn’t mean that people will put down their guitars or their pints.

Turing didn’t invent the computer. There were others doing similar work at the time. Yet, his discoveries would save millions of lives and lead to a device that we mainly use to watch porn and Dog With a Blog clips. In most biopics, the subject’s personality is usually highlighted by their humor and how personable they are. Strangely, Turing becomes lovable for how alien he is. He is like Abed from Community, or more accurately, a human computer who sees equations where people should be.

The Imitation Game is at its best when it exemplifies what made Turing such a unique individual. It is at its weakest when it falls into the biopic trap. I guess the flashback structure works here, as it highlights Turing’s loneliness. Still, it feels a little bit stale at times. Hearing Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley say, “people we imagine nothing of do things we can never imagine” over and over again threatens to turn this into an Apple commercial. The film sometimes tries too hard to set up Turing as a Christ figure. Sure, that is one way to look at him. However, I wish they spent a little more time with some of his internal conflicts. This was a man who, according to this film, was shunned and bullied his entire life. He has all the right to hate humanity, yet he is tasked with saving an entire civilization.

Once you get past some of the cliches and the “you’re too bold for us!” moments, what you have here is a solid film here that gets you emotionally when you least expect it. I am sure there is plenty more to the story that we didn’t see, and a lot more was likely changed. For instance, in real life there was probably no woman there who offered an anecdote that just so happened to help Turing solve his puzzle. Morten Tyldum never glosses over how Turing was treated for his sexual orientation. The Imitation Game might get a little sappy at times, but it doesn’t sugarcoat the dark details or leave them as a simple footnote before the final credits roll.

Brain Farts From The Edge

  • Things that Keira Knightley reminds me of: a dry piece of toast; a person who only eats dry toast; a parrot with a British owner
  • I actually thought that Mark Strong (a.k.a. the dude from Low Winter Sun) was Stanley Tucci for the entire film. The whole time I was thinking, “man, Stanley Tucci puts on a good British accent.” Then, I remembered that Mark Strong is the British Stanley Tucci. So maybe I wasn’t too far off.
  • Just read that Turing was nowhere near as socially awkward in real life as he is portrayed in the film. In fact, he actually had friends and good relationships with co-workers. I mean…come on…it makes the story better if he…you know what? I give up. I can’t wait for awards season to end so we can stop talking about historical inaccuracies.