THE IMITATION GAME. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, and Rory Kinnear. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Rated M (Mature themes). 114 min.
This is a British-American thriller film about a British mathematician who played a key role in breaking Nazi Germany's Enigma code that helped the allies win World War II. The film is based loosely on the biography, " Alan Turing: The Enigma" written by Andrew Hodges, in 1983.
Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) was a member of Britain's top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in the second World War. He joins and then leads a team of clever intelligence officers, chess champions, mathematicians, and linguists. The team was authorised by Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to have any resource they needed to break the Enigma Code which the Germans used to wage war against Britain and which led to the death of countless British soldiers. Enigma was the code used by the Germans to mount surprise attacks on British forces, and send instructions to their military personnel.
The movies spans key periods in Turing's life from his unhappy childhood years, through to the triumph of his successful wartime achievements as a decoder, to his conviction for gross indecency which originated from his admission that he maintained a homosexual relationship. The film has no explicit sex scenes, though Turing's homosexuality is never in doubt. The film chooses to depict him mostly as an arrogant genius with a difficult personality. He is a social misfit, a "fragile narcissist", who easily alienates people, but he is also a war hero and a pioneer of artificial intelligence.
Keira Knightey takes the role of Joan Clarke in the film, a fellow decoder, who becomes involved in a relationship with Turing, and who understands and accepts his sexuality. Matthew Goode is a fellow cryptographer, Hugh Alexander, who has all the social graces that Turing lacks, and the personalities of the two men are contrasted effectively.
The film stresses strongly the tolerance of diversity and makes the inescapable argument that competence and intelligence bears no relationship at all to gender, or expression of sexuality.
Cumberbatch probes the complicated, emotional depths of a tragic character. The film explores intelligently the breaking of an unbreakable code and builds up considerable tension around it. The real power of the film, however, is the descent into darkness by Turing. His personal tragedy is that he becomes a vilified victim, harassed by the Society and the Law of his era for being a homosexual, while receiving at the same time official gratitude for his achievements as a genius cryptographer. Cumberbatch captures brilliantly the enormous conflict of these opposing forces in Turing's life.
The film combines tension and dramatic thrills with acute sadness. The dialogue is smartly paced, good editing holds the suspense, and Cumberbatch's acting is riveting. The film's focus on breaking the intelligence of the Germans, and its depiction of the drama of his homosexuality pose contemporary dilemmas that permeate the movie, and the film raises moral questions of weight that have current relevance. How many civilians and soldiers, for example, does one permit to be killed in the act of keeping secret the breaking of a code? What personal sacrifices are necessary to serve the obvious good of ending a war?Should one tolerate for any reason the maintenance of deception and harassment at the highest level of Government?
As a period drama the film is uneven, as it flits the viewer back and forth from the past to the present. But it is a film that is richly mounted, brilliantly acted, and well directed. It joins war-time tension and thrills with personal drama effectively, thoughtfully, and movingly.
In his lifetime, Turing was forced to choose between chemical castration and prison. He was given a royal pardon posthumously for his "crime" in 2013.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
January 1st., 2015