The Imitation Game: too real to be an imitation

29 Dec

Loneliness, from the Swahili:  that place in the forest where one sits down and cries out, ‘Oh, mother!  I am lost.’”


The Imitation Game (2014), starring the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, pioneer of computer science and code-breaker of the “unbreakable” German Enigma code, is an important and moving film, but not just as an intense, race-against-the-clock World War II thriller, but also for its expose of society’s penchant for stoning its own prophets. Turing, instead of being lionized for shortening the war by an estimated two years with his invention of “Christopher,” the prototype for the first computer, was convicted of “gross indecency” (1940’s code for “homosexual”), a punishment that broke him not unlike the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde for similar charges, shortening his own life and its incomparable contributions to the fledgling computer age.

All that aside, though, as many others undoubtedly will voice opinions and accolades for the aforementioned and worthy components of Morten Tildum’s thoughtfully directed drama.  Based on Andrew Hodges’ 1983 biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma, screenwriter Graham Moore is faithful to the facts, while reasonably highlighting elements of a more timely agenda.  Fans of PBS’ popular series Bletchley Circle, of which I am one, might be intrigued by another look at the famous World War II British cryptographers, but today’s audience’s attention more likely will be drawn to the “gross unfairness” of the manner in which gays were treated in not-so-bygone decades.

Writer Craig Warner and directors Clare Beavan and Nic Stacey already had turned the lens to Turing’s troubled personal life in their Codebreaker, a quiet 2012 documentary examining the life of the little-known mathematic genius.  Not having read the book prior to seeing the film—something I rarely allow myself to do—I had prepared myself for the current movie by catching the documentary on Netflix.  Ed Stoppard’s depiction of the enigmatic Turing is as laudable as Cumberbatch’s, though the popular star of the Sherlock Holmes series will likely win a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Actor this spring.

Not so worthy, perhaps, is Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Turing’s colleague and lukewarm love interest Joan Clarke, though a possible Oscar for this over-rated British femme fatale already is being bandied about.  Knightley does give a more mature rendering in her role of Clarke than her usual childish one-dimensional effort, but only a little more.  (That she was engaging in her 2002 breakout role as a soccer-playing teen in Bend it Like Beckham, the fact that she has not grown since in spite of meaty roles thrown her by capable directors should not entitle her to tributes now.) Her title as the current-reigning “Demi Moore Flavor of the Month Actress” remains secure in my educated opinion.

The actor who does steal the show, however, revealing layers of unsounded depths of character development, is an unknown child by the name of Alex Lawther.  It is his realization of the young schoolboy Turing on whom I want to shower both attention and accolades.  His studied empathy with the lonely, tortured genius Turing surely was evokes the truest sympathy, especially when the young actor refuses to allow emotion to escape beyond the tormented look in his soulful eyes when he learns of the death of his only friend.  Later, when Cumberbatch’s Turing discloses his deepest fears of being left alone—the fact that he has named his invention after this one friend so that he can keep him close and “alive” is heart-breaking enough—the most valuable verity of the story is exposed.  The price one pays for being different—genius, homosexual, whatever—of never being completely understood or requited is a loneliness only others who are as different on an equal level can ever comprehend.  Although I do not qualify for membership in any of Turing’s categories, that “deep calls to deep” in me, so to speak, and makes this specific message of this multi-messaged film so poignant and memorable.

Sure, other movies have portrayed the isolated genius, the unwelcomed outcaste; many have done it well.  The Imitation Game, however, is inimitable this year, if not for all time.

Aleximages (3)


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