The Imitation Game
Despite a reserved "Masterpiece Theatre" tone and some ultra attentive enunciations, Swedish director Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) delivers an excellent portrait of the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing in "The Imitation Game."
As Turing, Benedict Cumberbatch creates a tour de force of drama that is masterful and self contained. He is at once witty and shy, halting yet glib. As Turing, Cumberbatch becomes a frosty chameleon, quick with daring and sure in verbal cuts but ultimately frightened and at times frozen in terror by the evasive confrontation of other mortals.
During the beginning of the film, Turing's interview by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) is a jabbing and comical study in oneupmanship that rivals Monty Python.
But all is not a volley of laughs.
We see a young Turing (Alex Lawther) at school, paralyzed with complete terror as he is nailed under a wooden trap door. The depiction is very close to being buried alive; he kicks and claws to no avail.
Somehow, by sheer will, he survived the torment of others.
His favorite saying, in paraphrase, is that people "enjoy violence because it gives them pleasure, but take away the pleasure and the act is left hollow".
The words serve him well.
Turing gets a post at Bletchley Park as a cryptologist, in the hopes of breaking Enigma, the impossible German code. He is ruthless in his drive, firing many key members. He holds a formidable crossword contest. Enter Joan Clarke, played with verve by Kiera Knightley who becomes Turing's left, if not right-hand, second in command.
Tyldum's tight and poetic direction oscillates between the logician's relentless puzzle graphing and the haunt of his romantically repressed past, even showing these two paths as irrevocably fused---a code within itself. In one scene, the Turing boy makes a declaration of love in encryption for Christopher (Jack Bannon). Turing rushes outside amid a huge crush of boys. Christopher never comes.
This scene combined with the previous mentioned floorboard scene is heart wrenching in anxiety and pathos, reminiscent of Alan Parker's "Pink Floyd---The Wall" in its flavor of melancholy along with the bluntness of cruelty in children.
One gets the definite feeling that although he is treated as "the other," pursued, hunted as quarry by the morally judgmental Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear) and disgustingly persecuted, Turing alone has the upper hand. Like a Mark Zuckerberg or the cinematic fiction of a Julian Assange, Turing's isolating and spacey tunnel vision is a filter that puts him one step ahead of the others.
And perhaps in his final days, he managed it. Turing's biographers Andrew Hodges and David Leavitt apparently suggest that Turing, faced with forced castration, took a bite of a poison apple in a re-creation of Snow White---his favorite fairy tale---forging a last stand of poetic mystery over the sadness of life.
Whatever the case, "The Imitation Game" is a fitting tribute to a man who lived by his own helix of humanity. Alan Turing was indeed a force of nature whose calculations won the war. If that was not enough, his graphed visions essentially produced what evolved into our modern computers. Turing emerges as a spirit-hero rising above convention, a logarithm ahead of moral insanity and pervasive ignorance.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org