The Imitation Game
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
Runtime: 2 hours
Genre: Biographical, historical/war thriller
Unearthing the buried legacy of an intellectual war hero.
Unlike most heroic martyrs, such as Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, whose deaths were moaned by many at the time of their death, Alan Turning, the pioneer of a modern computer and a savior of more than 14 million lives by cracking the Nazi code during the second great war, had no such privilege. Instead, he was prosecuted after the war because he was a homosexual. In lieu of serving a prison term, he chose to take the medicine that chemically castrated him. The side effect rendered him unable to solve a simple crossword puzzle (think of cutting all 10 fingers of a life-long pianist), and he committed suicide when he was 41. Does anyone see the irony and absurdity in this? The viewer of The Imitation Game surely will.
“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
The movie, starring peerless Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, is a long-overdue homage to the hero the world had ignorantly forgotten to acknowledge. The movie consists of three different time periods of Turing’s life: 1) when he was a student in a middle school during which his homosexuality bloomed, 2) when he was building a machine to crack the Nazi code with other intellectuals associated with British secret service, and 3) when he was interrogated by the police after the war. The narrative is not linear, for the sake of amplifying the emotional/sympathy effect, and the film spends significantly more time on the second portion.
The movie has merits and faults, like many other movies, but considering the timely ethical obligation it engenders in the viewers, the movie deserves high accolade. Biographical movies, it seems, are more difficult to concoct than other, more fictional genres. Since they are heavily based on historical facts (and since many people have different interpretation on historical facts), rarely is the case when a biographical film is immune to attacks. However, The Imitation Game may have somewhat different purpose: not just to recreate visually the life of a great human being, but to exhume a forgotten hero and hence, to give viewers a chance to reflect on a common human folly, and to remind us never to make such a mistake.
The movie commences with an interrogation scene at the police station in the later years, and it goes straight back to the interview scene where Turing is asking to be hired to crack the German code. His eccentricities are laid bare in this scene: socially inept, irreverent, arrogant, and ironic. We wonder at his own reasons for wanting to be hired by the secret service, and the commander, who boasts of rejecting even the great writer/Nobel laureate Bertolt Brecht, nevertheless hires Turing and grants him limitless resources for his endeavor. Unlike other team members, who try to crack the code using their brain, Turing intends to counter the Nazis’ machine intelligence with a machine of his own, so he starts to build one. The movie jumps back and forth in time, to adequately depict the complexity of Turing character, and his sacrifice and anomalies as a genius.
The movie is a thriller in a sense that time is at stake. There are no chase nor killing scenes, only an intellectual chase to crack the code. There are plenty of conflicts though: the commander’s constant threat to shut-down the whole operation, turing’s not-so-genial relationship with his co-workers, his need to hide homosexuality, a spy within his team, and his relationship with his wife/fellow code breaker played by Keira Knightley. And all these fuse smoothly to move the story forward while revealing Turing’s achievement and greatness – and his effort – that we all should appreciate (or anybody who uses computer nowadays).
The movie is overtly intent on its projection of pathos. However, thanks to Cumberbatch’s supreme acting, it seems natural and even necessary. It portrays a hero who feels responsibility for his intellect, a hero who draws the blueprint for the digital future, a hero who was, despite all that, prosecuted just because of his homosexuality.
The film leaves a lasting impressing, maybe due to those pathos the film alludes to, of a person who saved million lives of fathers, husbands, and sons. We feel we wronged him just by being a citizen in a society in which homosexual bigotry is still brewing – especially from religious conservationists. Can we do more than just acknowledge him and say ‘thank you’ silently in our mind? That’s for the viewers to decide.