The Imitation Game

Viewed on its own terms, The Imitation Game is a good enough entertaining film among many such. It has suspense, romance, and triumph in all the right proportions, all according to the formula. Breaking the pattern, it also tackles the treatment of gays in the 1950s, as well as the kind of social awkwardness very common among geeks and highly intellectual people. Although the film does push some of my triggers (one scene in particular I was only able to watch about three seconds at a time, pausing the film in between), that’s not the film’s fault.

But the film is not just any other film. It depicts Alan Turing’s life, and in large part dramatizes the codebreaking activities at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Viewed in this light, the film disappoints. Certainly, a film needs drama, and while codebreaking at wartime is crucial, the suspense involved is too abstract to sustain a film alone; thus, the filmmakers were justified in adding interpersonal conflict to the mix, to inflate the role of Turing at Bletchley Park, and to emphasize Turing’s attachment to coworker Joan Clarke. But where they come up short is that they did it in such a formulaic manner. I am not very good at guessing plots, and I was able to guess large parts of this film (beyond what I knew of Turing’s life). Clarke, who was a capable mathematician in her own right, was cast (based on the historical record, true) in this movie in the role which in any other movie I would call the token love interest, but in this movie that label seems off.

Benedict Cumberbatch gave a suberb performance as a very eccentric Alan Turing; I have nothing negative to say about his work in this film. But that’s to be expected; he is, after all, one of the great stars of my generation. I was more impressed with Alex Lawther’s interpretation of the young Alan Turing. Keira Knightley brought Joan Clarke to life in an unforgettable manner, though I do wonder how much that is due to her and how much is due to Clarke being the only significant female character in the movie. The other actors, however, were rather forgettable.

Alan Turing certainly deserved to be given his own film. Although the movie is wrong to state that we call Turing machines computers nowadays, Turing’s work certainly is foundational and fundamental to all of computing. And, true enough, he is a war hero. In the end, I enjoyed the film, and it certainly deserved to be made. Therefore, ★★★☆☆.

[Edited to add words about Knightley’s performance and about Clarke’s formulaic role.]

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