Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery
So we go from Interstellar, where I wonder if Christopher Nolan can do no wrong, to The Imitation Game, where I wonder if Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong because this is a brilliant, brilliant performance by him.
Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Alan Turing is without question the best part of this film. We get to see a fragile, isolated and socially awkward man who is a genius mathematician and cryptographer. From watching the film you could happily walk out of the cinema saying “Yup, Alan Turing had aspergers syndrome” in fact Cumberbatch is so good you could almost be forgiven for believing that HE has aspergers himself. Of course, whether Turing did or did not have the disorder in real life hasn’t been proven but it certainly lives up to the mythos of Alan Turing’s behavior. It is worthy of praise that Cumberbatch makes this so believable.
Given the above; it’s hardly surprising that the film is more a study of Turing’s life rather than how he broke the enigma code or what the specific repercussions were by doing so. Of course the film does touch on these elements, it has to, but our primary focus is on the life and times of Turing himself.
One part of Turing’s life was to propose to co-worker, Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley), at Bletchley Park during his work to break the enigma code. I wasn’t sure about Knightley and Cumberbatch on screen together because they are both strong acting talents but the chemistry between them was pretty good. I feel that Knightley is perhaps a bit too made up in this film and that a more ‘homely’ look would have fit the role slightly better but that’s a moot point because she too delivers a strong performance.
The end of the film is truly saddening. We see a Turing who is a shell of the man he used to be after homosexual relationships led to him being prosecuted of indecency and forced to take oestrogen to render him impotent. Shunned by the government Turing committed suicide only two years later. It’s crazy to think that this is what he was reduced to especially since he had been so instrumental in turning the tide of the second world war. The fact that this only happened 60 or so years ago is even more crazy and the fact he was only pardoned of the ‘crime’ and fully recognised for the work he had done in 2013 – yes, last year! – is even more crazy.
Unfortunately the biopic is not without it’s downsides. Because it is a biopic we do not get to see much of the war, which I think is fine because war dramas will come into vogue every 5 ten years so who needs another. More annoying though is that we do not get a feel for how he conceived or made ‘Christopher’ the machine to break enigma nor how it works.
Perhaps I was a cat in a past life but I’m particularly curious about how it works. I mean, how would even think about doing it? Nowadays computers are so ubiquitous but try and think about building the first one ever. There is no RAM for memory , no motherboard to connect it all up and a microchip are those ones at the bottom of the newspaper after you have devoured the rest of the fish and chips.
Mind-blowing and unfortunately glossed over. This is most evident when Turing is creating various geometric drawings yet we don’t find out why or where they fit into the machine and during the ‘Eureka’ moment when Turing works out how to break the code; he runs back into his workshop plugs and unplugs a few things, presses some buttons and bingo!
I understand he was ‘programming’ it but it reminded me of watching 80’s sci-fi where a spaceship has millions of irrelevant weep-woops, techno lights, plunger nubs, whirly-go-rounds and lever wonks. The film even rubs your face in it at one point as Turing shouts “You will never understand the importance of what I am creating here” and I’m sat there thinking “Damn straight, you haven’t told me anything about it!”. I wanted more technical details because how he actually cracked code is still a mystery to me.
Turings sexuality is a running theme throughout the film and it’s a shame that more a social commentary because the film could have been a powerful vessel to portray the incongruous nature of discrimination based on who someone may happen to be attracted to but again this is glossed over at the expense of telling an out and out biographical narrative.
If that all sounds rather grim and depressing, don’t worry, it’s light-hearted enough to make you chuckle at key points in the film which helps to both keep the pace and lighten the mood. For the most part it’s actually quite fun interspersed with more somber moments and it’s straight forwards enough that it won’t leave you bamboozled.
- Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is worth the entry fee alone
- Actually quite amusing!
- A fair portrayal of an amazing man
- No commentary on morals of war
- No commentary on the morals of homophobia
- No details about how the machine was built/cracked the code.