I really enjoy a true story. Who doesn’t? There are some fascinating tales in history I wouldn’t know about had it not been shown to me in cinema. I always take a trip to Google to learn about the subject after I’ve seen their life on the big screen, sometimes even before if the mood takes me. Having never heard of Alan Turing before The Imitation Game I was wondering what was so special about his story? Nothing about it seemed to stand out. It wasn’t until I spent two hours learning some of his history that it hit me.
For some it’s the events, but for others it’s the circumstances surrounding those events, and depending what era of history yours takes place that could mean either good or bad. Unfortunately for Turing his is the latter; he lived in the wrong era as his innovative mind, and somewhat ‘innovative’ private life, was far too ahead of the curb for anyone to truly understand. But it does bring up a though issue. If he had not of existed in the early-to-mid twentieth century our world would not be the same from a technological standpoint, so for us you could say it was a necessary sacrifice.
There are a lot of unsung heroes in history and Alan Turing is top of the list. The average man on the street won’t know his name, but if they value the computer they’re using to read this blog post or look up screening times for The Imitation Game then they should give Turing a little shout out. It wouldn’t be possible without him.
The Imitation Game takes place in a world that no longer exists. Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberpatch) is different in ways never clearly explained, because he doesn’t understand them himself. He’s misunderstood and mistreated for reasons unknown to him, and as the film goes on this becomes more and more apparent to us, but not to him. Thanks to a childhood friend in Christopher (Jack Bannon) Alan develops mental fortitude he never knew he possessed and maintains a front with an old-school British stiff upper lip, though underneath he’s still just as fragile.
There are two timelines that the film traverses with ease, never becoming clunky or dictating pace. The first is post-war. We meet Allen on his hands and knees with a mask covering his identity, then later a sullen Alan sits across from Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear), his English accent narrating to him and to us, asking if we’re listening, essentially a cry for some kind of understanding. The first act establishes that nobody is listening as the socially awkward and unintentionally arrogant Alan struggles through an interview with the straight-laced Commander Alistair Dennison (Charles Dance), presenting his lack of relations with some very clever and witty dialogue, which would carry his disorder throughout the film without ever having his sad story determine the feel of the film.
The other era of Turing’s life is his time during World War II working at Bletchley Park on Germany’s Enigma; a ciphering machine with 159,000,000,000,000,000,000 combinations. It’s here we learn there are a couple of personal ciphers he’s simply unable to even address let alone solve. One is his reason for his apparent disconnection to the people around him, socially and personally, while the other is his own private life, which the film barely even acknowledges, mirroring Alan’s own struggle to comprehend who he really is. It’s clear he’ll crack Enigma before he figures these mysteries out.
The second act showcases Alan’s obsession over his futuristic machine that’s capable of cracking Enigma’s codes and winning the war. But his lack of results as well as his deteriorating rapport with the people he works with, in particular the suave ladies-man Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), almost leads to violence, reminiscent of the treatment he received as a child in school for dividing his peas and carrots due to colour. Still, the film continues to keep things light-hearted with another funny scene in which John Cairncross (Allen Leech), informs Alan they’re going to lunch, which Alan interprets as a statement rather than an invitation, then absent-mindedly asks them to bring him soup.
The breakthrough moment of the film, when Alan discovers the solution to Enigma, comes with Alan’s own personal breakthrough. Through his friendship with Joan Clark (Keira Knightley) Alan develops into a more likeable person, mending his relationship with his team by bringing them apples and rattling off a joke he doesn’t understand. Though the transition from a team to a group of friends was a little abrupt it was still believable. Thanks to the well-written script and a character we could all root for that I was heavily invested and enjoying Alan’s rebirth, so much so that when the Commander Dennison came for Alan’s job I was begging for someone to save him. Having gone over Alistair’s head right to Winston Churchill his relationship with the commander couldn’t be any more strained, but it warmed my heart when his work-mates advocated for him, buying him, and them, the time they needed to complete Alan’s machine. The supporting characters had been a little shallow so far but were now being rounded out.
Things drag a little after Alan’s breakthrough, which he interestingly gets from a flirtatious conversation between Hugh and a love interest. The film somehow notified itself of this change in pace and corrected itself with numerous twists such as the use of decoded information, Soviet spies, a marriage proposal doomed to fail, and Alan’s own admittance of who he really was. It kept me invested for the rest of the film’s duration, though by the final act it needn’t have asked for my attention as it was now commanding it.
Once the war ends we return to the post-war era with Nock having just heard Alan’s story. It dawned on me the film’s message of hypocrisy as those involved in the British war effort would not judge certain personal political beliefs if it aided them in defeating the German’s, yet after that war ended they were bound by duty to serve “justice” and willing to persecute a man who had helped them retain the right to serve said justice.
As quickly as the film had established Alan as a man with an identity it was quick to point out how history had robbed it from him and left him in ruin. Though the visit from Joan did feel a little tacked on as their parting years earlier was less than amicable I remembered it was in that parting that Alan proudly announced who he was to her, and that her acceptance, his hypocritical dismissal, and her return to him made sense. Alan is once again left alone, figuratively and literally, with his only companion being his machine named Christopher; the only person and the only thing that ever made him feel comfortable identifying as Alan Turing.
Alan Turing was a man born before his time. He was different in all ways possible, with an apparent obsessive compulsive disorder but a mind that could perceive years into the future, and legs that could carry him for a marathon, lapping others with his endurance and intellect. What was worse is it wasn’t as if these differences were undiscovered, they were well known but they were unheard of, unspoken of, and therefore did not exist. Anyone who divided food based on colour and would take any statement literally was considered to be nothing but silly; the funny scenes and witty dialogue is how this is presented.
The film is Alan’s transition into a man who can identify with himself and be comfortable around others. At the beginning he has this thinly-veiled vulnerability all about him and is so passive it’s hard to believe he played such a huge role in World War II. At one point he pretty much succumbs to his obsession by focussing on nothing but his machine while his team struggles to beat the clock. But when he meets Joan Clark he starts to realise he can’t let it define him.
Through the friendship of Joan Clark (Keira Knightley) Alan sees a person much like himself, a personified representation of his own adversity. He’s never met anyone who’d experienced persecution like him as she too is judge prejudicially, in her case because of her gender, so he takes an instant liking to her straight away and goes out of his way to include her in the war effort even if it means breaking the rules. He’s already broken all the social rules, what difference is it to him? In one way he knows things could be a whole lot worse; if Alan had been an obsessive, compulsive, homosexual woman there would have been no hope for him.
The final scene, in which him and his friends (not team, friends) burn everything they have so that it may not be used against them, is the one definitive moment in which Alan is finally comfortable with who he is and is being accepted by those around him. Unfortunately it wouldn’t last as the film tells us of Alan’s unfortunate end, but it also reminds us of the impact he had on the modern world today. While the royal pardon issued to him in 2013 (one of only four since World War II) is the highest honour possible isn’t enough to erase history.
Benedict Cumberpatch is absolutely brilliant as Alan Turing. Successfully portraying a man with any sort of mental disability or issue is incredibly tough, but Cumberpatch does it flawlessly. There’s a huge emotive range on display here, from a scared man in a suit, to working obsessively on a crazy invention, to the stuttering and destroyed soul he becomes at the end. He maintains this front throughout but that vulnerability still creeps through in his watery eyes, and by the end he is consumed by it. With this performance there’s a reason why it’s considered a two-horse race for the best actor Oscar, and Cumberpatch is more than deserving of the nod.
Outside of Cumberpatch the rest of the cast are left to play what are essentially minor supporting roles, needed only to further the story of Alan Turing, though they do play their roles quite well, particularly Charles Dance as Commander Dennison, even if it is a carbon copy of one he recently played on television. The only one who comes close to any form of development is Keira Knightley’s Joan Clark, but she is more of a tool used for Alan’s breakthrough and the performance from Knightley is so-so, not good nor bad, which is pretty much where Knightley resides. However I must give a little credit to Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, and Matthew Beard, who all brought a distinct style to each of their roles and Goode was a good foil for Cumberpatch. But overall this was the story of Alan Turing, and at the end of the day all others were simply along for the ride.
The Making Of
Norway’s Morten Tyldum is new at this, with only four films under his belt, and this being his English debut, so I’m not holding it against him if his direction lacked a little originality. The scenes with Detective Nock had more of a British TV crime drama than a feature film, but it seemed the further into the film we went the more Tyldum seemed to settle into a style the was better suited to cinema.
The direction, while with no flavour of its own, is never an issue as it doesn’t dictate the quality of the film. If it pips your interest the true story of Alan Turing is worth a read, and when you compare it to the film you might feel a little put out. I was so enthralled with the man on film and I was disappointed the film-makers had taken such liberties with Turing’s characterisation and of certain events. It was a sad story to begin with, turning Turing from a historically brilliant man into a larger than life figure that none could emulate. Granted, he was far more gifted than most, but it never needed the embellishment. The truth was enough.
In terms of production there are two major highlights. The first is Graham Moore’s screenplay, which I thought was paced perfectly, carrying the film through only one noticeable lull with very funny moments as well as some sombre ones too. As is always the case with myself, the other was the music. Alexandre Desplat, a polar opposite to Tyldum in terms of experience, has written a spot-on perfect score that’s reminiscent of WWII-era Britain and carries us emotively throughout the highs and lows. It’s on YouTube and I do recommend it if you need something to listen to while you’re reading about Turing.
I’ve heard of or seen some biopics and I wonder why? While the events surrounding them may be worth a look the people themselves can sometimes be rather uninteresting themselves. They may have been extraordinary or brilliant people in real life, but that doesn’t necessarily translate onto the big screen. Alan’s mind, his situation and his life were all extraordinary for all the wrong reasons, and it’s succinctly on display here thanks to the efforts of Morten Tyldum, Graham Moore and Benedict Cumberpatch.
We all know the stories of the most famous and infamous names in history, it’s practically how I’ve been piecing history together, but it’s inevitable that at some point the well will run dry. It may not yet be empty but it’s getting there, and as time goes on we’re seeing a new trend emerging; the story of the unsung hero. They may not be as recognisable but they contributed nonetheless, so if delving into a little unheard history for two entertaining hours is your style then this is the best place to start.
9 of 10