THE IMITATION GAME

the imitation gameTHE IMITATION GAME has been promoted as a standard kind of thriller. The story of how a group of mathematicians, chess experts and problem solvers broke the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War II. That description while accurate, sells this film far too short. It is so much more than a standard war movie or spy thriller. Benedict Cumberbatch is Alan Turing. Turing was a brilliant, yet socially awkward mathematician. He was one of a group called upon to break the Enigma code, thought to be unbreakable. But he was first among those who were not close to being his equal. He was a visionary, way ahead of his time. He devised a machine that could think faster than a person. You might know it as a computer. Yes, in 1940 a British egghead was working on building a computer, or as he described it an electric brain. But this movie is not about codebreaking or math. It is about a man. A very flawed man. A man with no friends. A man who was a homosexual, a crime in Great Britain back in those days. He was a man trying to discover secrets, who was keeping a huge one. His genius was without question. His co-workers suspected his sexual orientation but kept his secret. So what are we getting at here. What is this about? It’s about how people are afraid of what’s different or weird. No one liked Turing, save for Joan Clarke who one might call a friend, but even she was frustrated by him. But they accepted his brilliance once they realized his personality did not matter. People are afraid of those who don’t act according to social norms or don’t look like them. More on that in a bit. The brilliance here is Cumberbatch’s performance. Turing stammered. He was blunt, sometimes brutally so. Cumberbatch nails all of that. His skill is remarkable. Just listen to the stammer, or the way he carries himself. It’s a beautifully crafted physical performance as well as a striking emotional one. The supporting players are great, if not nearly his equal because no one can be. Keira Knightley is Joan. Supportive and frustrated that her brilliance could be wasted because of her gender. Charles Dance as the Naval Commander in charge of the operation tones down his Tywin Lannister evilness just enough. Mark Strong is stealthy and smart as the head of MI6. The technical bits of movie making are genius too. Great cinematography and set design (bombed out London looks all too real). And the score is powerful, yet not overpowering. But all of that could have been just average and the film just ok, except for the performance of Cumberbatch and the screenplay written by Andrew Hodges and Graham Moore. That is the genius of this film. All of this happened more than 60 years ago, but it feels like could have happened last week. It’s history so I’m not giving anything away by telling you that Turing was found guilty of breaking Britain’s morality law and sentenced to chemical castration. He took his own life a year later at the age of just 41. A waste. A life, an important life cut too short because of intolerance. Made me think of our recent experience with race relations in this country. I don’t know if any of these young black men killed by police officers were as brilliant as Alan Turing. Probably not. But we’ll never know. And we’ll never know what Alan Turing might have accomplished had people not been afraid of something different. THE IMITATION GAME sends a powerful message if you open your heart and mind to it. It is one of the best films I have seen this year, maybe even the last five years. And it’s a film you should run to the theater to see. — Alan Yudman

 

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