Anticipation: 4/5 Benedict Cumberbatch + Computers + Code Breaking + Nazis. Sounds good.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5 The Imitation Game’s mere title takes on a world of meanings in this tightly knit prestige biopic of one of the most important men of the twentieth century.
In 1952, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is arrested for ‘gross indecency’ by British authorities only for the latter to discover that Turing had worked for the Government Code and Cypher School, a branch of British intelligence and security during World War II. Turing’s design for a digital computer cracked the Nazis’ ‘Enigma’ machine’s codes and saved millions of lives as a result.
The most enjoyable aspect of the film is the implications the title has on many of the relationships. At the beginning of the film, when brought in for questioning by the police, Turing asks the officer present “Am I a machine or a man?” His question is taken from an article he published in 1950, Computing Machinery and Intelligence. Turing asks under the subtitle The Imitation Game “Can machines think?” Turing wasn’t necessarily exploring whether machines could think, but rather if they could render a faithful portrayal of a woman or a man if it were to replace either. But in the film’s context, Turing’s question implies that he is his own case study, meaning that Turing himself is exploring whether he can imitate the “norms” of the society he inhabits.
At first, the arrogance or intellectual agonistic behavior Turing shows is a veiled performance to conceal his homosexuality. But, Turing fails to make his machine work the same way that he fails to maintain any form of friendly or romantic relationship. The film suggests, metaphorically, that if Turing can somehow get his design for a digital computer to imitate, navigate and then interpret the Nazis’ ‘Enigma’ machine, Turing will unlock the means to find the one thing that will allow him to function within the designed parameters of closed-minded social protocol. In ritualistic fashion, Turing tries to dominate his colleagues intellectually to assert gender superiority, but it only creates further isolation. He then results to seeking peace with an offering: an apple (which carries its own metaphorical implications; scientific, religious and fantastical). Turing also agrees to marry a woman, again imitating a ritual that would confirm social acceptance. By the time Turing finally succeeds in making his machine work, he has gained his colleagues’ respect and acceptance. By working together, they crack the Nazis’ codes and save millions of people.
However, once the War is over and the government no longer needs his services, Turing returns to a life of isolation and loneliness, away from the people that accepted him. Completely forgotten, in 1952, Turing is arrested, publicly shamed and sentenced to chemically induced castration for partaking in homosexual activity. Instead of being honored by the millions he saved, he was condemned. He committed suicide in 1954.
Seemingly, nothing is on the verge of stopping Benedict Cumberbatch from rising to the rank of Britain’s purest acting talent since the likes of Laurence Olivier. The Imitation Game is a beautiful yet tragic story. It causes us to ponder the virtues of self-sacrifice, the values of human connection and the contradictory ethics of close-minded society. The rendition of Turing’s life is so compelling that the film is over in a flash. I actually caught myself wanting to know more about not only Turing himself, but also the team that helped him achieve his masterwork. A must see!
(The book can be found here: Alan Turing: The Enigma)