'The Imitation Game' Cracks The Enigma Of Alan Turing
Film Pays Tribute To Code-Breaker
ANCHOR INTRO: Benedict Cumberbatch has played a dragon as well as Sherlock Holmes. This Christmas, KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says you can find him playing the mathematician who helped break the enigma code in The Imitation Game. IMITATION 1 (ba) :56 LIVE TAG (if you want): The Imitation Game opens Christmas day in select San Diego Theater. Unlike the overhyped and overrated Unbroken and Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game delivers a good film rather than just relying on remarkable true stories to distract from mediocre filmmaking. The Imitation Game looks to the men and one woman who worked on breaking the Enigma code during World War II. CLIP It’s the greatest encryption device in history and the Germans use it for all major communications. The film’s not just a procedural thriller about Enigma. It’s also a portrait of the narrow-minded morality of the the times that almost kept the most qualified people out because England at the time deemed homosexuality illegal and a single woman working away from home with a group of men inappropriate. The Imitation Game succeeds because it makes characters like Alan Turing – the brilliant mathematician whose homosexuality eventually got him arrested – into flesh and blood beings rather than one-dimensional historic figures. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.
"Sherlock" (2010, BBC TV Series)
"The Turing Enigma" (2011)
Benedict Cumberbatch played a dragon in "The Hobbit" movies, as well as Sherlock Holmes in the BBC TV series. This Christmas you can find him playing the mathematician who helped break the Enigma code in "The Imitation Game" (opening Dec. 25 in select San Diego theaters).
It's Oscar bait season, that time of year when studios release all their "important" films in the hopes of getting Academy voters to bite. A lot of the films turn to true stories for inspiration, be it the life of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything" or the amazing tale of Louis Zamperini, the Olympian turned prisoner of war in Angelina Jolie’s "Unbroken." But the problem with these films is that they rely on the remarkable nature of their source material to distract from mediocre filmmaking. But unlike the overhyped and overrated "Unbroken" and "Theory of Everything," "The Imitation Game" delivers a genuinely good film about a fascinating true story.
"The Imitation Game" looks to the men and one woman who worked on breaking the Enigma code during World War II. Inspired by the real life story of mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), the film recounts how Turing and his team of code-breakers at Britain's top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park raced against the clock to break the German's Enigma code. This team also included one woman Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). During the course of the team's work, Turing pioneered the Turing Machine, the model for a general purpose computer.
Based on Andrew Hodges' biography of Turing, the film moves between Turing's early days in school and his work at Bletchley Park in World War II. The film depicts him as both a genius, and as socially inept and awkward. One of the school scenes shows him talking with a friend about codes. As the friend explains what the code book is about Turing asks how that is different from talking, which he felt was difficult to decipher because people never say what they actually mean. As Turing grows up in the film, he seems to alternate between being the Asperger-ish nerd and the clever genius. Sometimes the film is a bit simplistic in its character psychology but at least it makes an attempt to create Turing as a flesh and blood character rather than a one-dimensional historic figure whose fate seems set from the start.
And that's why "The Imitation Game" succeeds where the other true life inspired films this holiday season fail. Director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore try to make the characters and their situation real in "The Imitation Game." We come to see Turing, Clarke, and the other team members as fallible and vulnerable, which allows the film to build dramatic tension in a way that "Unbroken" doesn't. In "Unbroken," director Jolie never lets us doubt that Zamperini will survive and triumph over all odds, his fate is written from the beginning. But in "The Imitation Game," we are riveted by the story, feel the urgency of what Turing is doing, and worry if he will succeed even though we know the outcome in advance.
The film is also compelling because it goes beyond being just a procedural historical thriller about Enigma. It’s also a portrait of the narrow-minded morality of the the times that almost kept the most qualified people out of Bletchley Park because England at the time deemed homosexuality illegal and a single woman working away from home with a group of men inappropriate. The film looks to the less familiar part of the Enigma story, which was the aftermath. Turing was arrested and convicted on charges of homosexuality in 1952. So the film also packs some potent social commentary along with its nail-biting historical drama.
"The Imitation Game" is the best of the Oscar bait films out this holiday season. But it is not flawless. While it tries to offer some character insights, sometimes it becomes too pat or resorts to a kind of stereotyped shorthand. At times it resorts to nerd cliches that make Turing so socially awkward that he's unable to understand the simplest of jokes, yet Moore also gives him scenes that seem designed to make us think of Sherlock's supremely clever high functioning sociopath. The extremes are sometimes hard to straddle. The opening in particular, where Turing narrates with a Holmesian sense of absolute control, seems too calculated to pull us in with his Sherlock persona (the opening narration is also freakishly similar to Clive Owen's opening introduction to "The Inside Man"). Some of the complaints about the simplification of Turing's character can be found in this article by Christian Caryl. But the film does a far superior job in depicting Turing and his story than the earlier film "Enigma" (2001) starring Dougray Scott and Kate Winslet.
"The Imitation Game" (rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking) is a tense historical thriller bolstered by exceptional work from Cumberbatch and the rest of the acting ensemble.
Watch the trailer.