The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

 Director: Morten Tyldum
 Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
 Runtime: 2 hours
 Genre: Biographical, historical/war thriller
 Year: 2014
Grade: A-

 

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.

Cumberbatch as Turing, with his machine named after his lost friend/lover Christopher.

 

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.

Cumberbatch and Knightley

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 director and the cast of the movie

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).

Cumberbatch on the cover of Time

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.

Trailer:

Interview:

 

 

 

Birdman

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis
Genre: Drama, Satire, Magical Realism   Year: 2014
Grade: A

In the current culture of absolute impatience wrought by instant messages, tweets, and real time feeds, the era in which teenagers and adults alike can’t hold their attention for more than 7 minutes, acronyms are much appreciated. Popular acronyms have firmly planted their foothold in our culture, such as FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). A little tweak to that, and we can have FOBNO (Fear of Becoming No One).

“Sixty is the new thirty, motherfucker!”

Birdman, at least ostensibly, is about what the latter acronym designates. Inarritu, better known as a director of “ponderous downers” such as 21 grams and Babel, has created a terrific black comedy (or satire) about a man in his twilight years named Reagan Thompson (Michael Keaton) who is afraid of becoming no one. He wasn’t a no one in the past. A couple decades ago, he was an eponymous Birdman, the action movie franchise not unlike Ironman or Batman. He never had a significant role in the hollywood after that stunt, and this movie trails his last attempt at fame and self-redemption through the means of staging a broadway play titled “What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.” Reagan himself has adapted, wrote, produced this play, and will be acting in it as well.

The director and casts of the movie.

It is difficult to choose what aspects of this movie to praise first because it succeeds in so many different levels in an unprecedented, creative ways. Inarritu is a meticulous director who has always paid attention to the form. His so-called Death Trilogy (Amorres Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel) had a ‘hyperlink film’ form, consisting of a set of different story-lines thinly threaded with a common theme.  The new movie Birdman departs from his previous style in a most extreme way; although structured in a linear narrative, it is, seemingly, shot in one single take, the entire 2 hours of it. The verisimilitude generated by this form is countered by the magical realistic scenes (Reagan’s telekinetic and levitating ability) – the concretization of his inner, psychological state. In sum, it is an intense character study of this man named Reagan Thompson by detailing both his everyday events and the vagaries of his psyche.

Of course, many obstacles stand in his ways to successfully producing his broadway play. His daughter (Emma Stone), is just out of rehab and supposedly helping Reagan. When she is caught smoking pot, she counters back by contemptuously pecking his weak spot, reminding him of his obsolete way of perceiving the current world. The actor for his play, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) is supremely talented but is very erratic and egomaniacal that he is a greatest threat to Reagan’s success. He bemoans of “cultural genocide” currently taking play in Hollywood, and tries to have real sex on the stage with the actress (Naomi Watts). Other obstacles include this other actress who informs Reagan that she is pregnant with his baby, and his financial needs for the play that forces him to sell his house. Amidst all this, we witness his honest, if not pathetic, endeavor to make his last attempt at fame, to prove that he is not nobody yet, by make the play a success.

“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”

Besides being a drama (both realist and magical) and a satire of this current culture that prioritize self-perception and many things evanescent, this movie is also a comedy and has many laugh-out-loud moments. One funny scene particularly sticks out that depicts the burden of being a parent, viral nature of the social media, and an desperate effort of a fame-climber. After witnessing his daughter kissing his co-actor, he walks outside to smoke during the middle of the play (when he was waiting in the backstage), and the door closes with his robe stuck. He needs to be on the stage in a few minutes, so he ditches his robe and goes around the block with only white underwear on. I won’t spoil what follows.

As said before, the movie embodies both realist and magical styles, and it is also both comedy and tragedy: the farce of this life in current culture of FOBNO, and also the tragedy of human being in his existential crisis. Inarritu merges such diametric nature of themes and forms into a movie so naturally that the end-result is a true work of art.

All the hardships and self-doubt notwithstanding, Reagan Thompson forges on, and it is crucial to think about what finally bring him a taste of success.

Selected as one of the top 10 movies of 2014 by many critics, Birdman truly is a masterpiece. It is innovative, culturally savvy, supremely acted and refreshing. With this movie, Alejandro Inarritu once again proves that he is peerless when it comes to creative and touching film making. He is currently filming a movie titled “The Revenant” starring Leonardo DeCaprio.

Trailer: