The Imitation Game,
directed by Morton Tyldum
(Black Bear, 2014)

Because this poignant and painful story deals with two major points about human existence -- the forgetting of inconvenient heroes and the refusal of society to embrace unusual people -- the moral is naturally going to be out in front and leading the plot. The Imitation Game is simple at times, but quite emotionally accurate, in its search to right a massive injustice done to a hero; in its desire to illuminate the lives of those who seek the impossible against all odds; in its willingness to take a stand on gender being irrelevant in terms of ability and intelligence; and mostly in its humanistic portrayal of an irascible, sometimes unlikeable mathematician who saved millions of lives, brought an end to World War II two years early, and gave us the modern computer before his suicide as a result of the persecution he suffered for being a homosexual in post-war Britain.

The movie plays it safe in the name of cracking out good entertainment while still educating the public about one of the most interesting times in human history. It needs to make mathematics a vibrant enough subject to allow the audience to understand that mathematics as much as bullets won the war, and it needs to make brilliant, isolated people emotionally accessible to a varied audience, so the use of sometimes conventional storytelling is understandable. The Imitation Game seeks to establish a gay man as a hero and as a seminal, important figure in world history, not just WW2. It makes the claim that gender is no limit on intelligence. It asks us not just to respect our heroes for who they are, but to embrace them. I respect the path that has to be walked with this film.

And yet, for all its light touches and seeming simplicity, TIG is an intellectual film and a fascinating and effective thriller. First-time director Mort Tyldum wisely, cleverly leaves performances to do the work of imparting both the gravity of the situation and the humanity of the players. It's the actors who broadcast all the complexities of life in the codebreakers' den, located in Bletchley Park, itself a place of such drama that it spawned the excellent BBC series The Bletchley Circle. Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), as the military commander itching for any excuse to send Turing packing, is the perfect foil to prick the ego of Benedict Cumberbatch's assured, aloof Alan Turing. Kiera Knightly as Joan Clarke is exactly right for the role of Turing's friend, platonic lover and fellow code-breaker, one who faced her own societal approbation for being a woman in a man's job. Turing's infatuation with her transcended anything like society's boundaries or even the boundaries of his sexuality. It was truly a meeting of spirit as much as mind, and his only relative comfort in a hostile world. Certainly his employers barely thanked him, while his questioners and accusers weren't even remotely intellectually or emotionally aware of the perversity of their charges. Creating monsters out of people simply because you cannot understand them is a slap in the face of evolution, reason and compassion, let alone intellect.

Turing was sought out because he was different but he was also done in for the same reason. Cumberbatch's portrayal helps the movie overcome the weaknesses of its storytelling. It's not the whole truth, more like a burnished truth, but The Imitation Game is still enjoyable in spite of its formulaic feel. The story of Alan Turing is a rich, complex one, and TIG will likely be the start of more insightful and detailed observation of its source material.

review by
Mary Harvey

21 February 2015

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