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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘The Imitation Game’ highlights unsung hero

Published: December 5, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Ah, another movie featuring a likely awards nominee, so soon after “The Theory of Everything.” And it just so happens to be another biopic! Why, it’s almost as if there’s some sort of season upon us, an Oscar season if you will. OK, in all seriousness, “The Imitation Game” is a movie that, like “The Theory of Everything,” I was looking forward to quite a bit. Though I’ll never really understand the obsessions he inspires, I am a big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch. He was honestly enough to save “Star Trek Into Darkness” for me, I love him as Smaug and, of course, Sherlock is great. I’m not of the opinion that he should be in everything requiring a deep British voice, because I’d rather see him in actual roles that let him act. Luckily, I have him starring in the best biopic of 2014.

“The Imitation Game” is the story of British mathematician Alan Turing (Cumberbatch), recruited in World War II as part of a team trying to crack the Enigma machine, a seemingly unbreakable Nazi code maker. Every day, Enigma changes to a new, completely random group of settings through which German messages are fed, never repeating itself or failing to baffle the Allies. An insecure but brilliant loner, Turing begins work on a machine to break any code, ignoring and annoying his colleagues (Matthew Goode, Allen Leech and Matthew Beard). After making friends with fellow, more sociable genius Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), Turing begins to come around, all while trying to keep his homosexuality, then illegal in Britain, buried as deep as the secret to cracking Enigma.

Last year while on vacation with my family in London, I picked up a copy of The Guardian’s Christmas Day issue. Inside, a small blurb towards the end of the news section mentioned that as part of some annual tradition, the queen had pardoned Alan Turing posthumously, who was charged with indecency in the ’50s. This was my first time hearing of Turing, and I soon became enraptured by his philosophies and work, especially the idea of the Turing Test and the Turing Machine. I’m not going to go through his entire life and death here, but I don’t need to do so to hammer home how abominably the man was treated by his government, partly because of the top-secret nature of his code breaking work. “The Imitation Game” goes through all of this, and unlike most long-form biopics, it does it extremely well.

“The Imitation Game” succeeds because of two things: how it specifically approaches its subject, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Firstly, the film details true events comprehensively and thoroughly, through the eyes of Alan Turing, a mess of genius, self hatred and social disorders. The screenplay decides early on that this Alan Turing is the mystery that it wants to unfold and portray in his utmost complexity, and sticks with it to the end. Secondly, Benedict Cumberbatch embodies these traits extremely well and is a wonder on screen.

Unlike most biopics, which are comfortable only to show the infamous aspects of their subjects, “The Imitation Game” shows Turing at his best and worst, and like a great essay, breaks both down. Director Morten Tyldum allows no veneer of myth or idolatry in his movie, portraying the desperation, fear and loneliness of the code breakers’ jobs and Turing’s personal life. The main story is interwoven with scenes of Turing as a child discovering his sexuality, as well as him after being arrested, which the film’s intense personal analysis uses to give the audience a full portrait.

I also cannot praise Benedict Cumberbatch enough here; his performance ranges from inspiring to curious to heartbreaking and every second is fully realized and believable. After all, no video or audio recordings of Turing exists, so Cumberbatch had to create his performance from biographies and descriptions of Turing’s voice. Thus, we have the pleasure of viewing a great actor in his most personal performance to date, one that solidifies him as one of the best in his generation. The supporting cast, particularly Matthew Goode and Mark Strong, is also fantastic, which contributes to the fullness of the movie.

What else is there to say? Not much. “The Imitation Game” is a movie that I expected to like one part of, and left loving pretty much all of. There are nitpicks I could make, and it does get a bit slow at times, but as a piece of emotionally evocative art, this film is wonderful. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch should get at least an Oscar nomination, but more importantly, “The Imitation Game” is a great chronicle of one of the world’s most unjustly unsung heroes. Remember, Turing’s accomplishments and his horrible postwar life weren’t even acknowledged by his government until 2013. Considering that, taking two hours out of your day to see his story is worth it. This is an amazing, sad story told greatly, and Alan Turing deserves to have some time in the sun.