The Enigma code used by the Nazis in World War II was one of the most complex methods of encryption the world has ever seen. Breaking it was one of the Allies’ greatest achievements. All thanks to one man: Alan Turing. Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game gives us the story of Turing and how he managed to crack Enigma by building a machine (nicknamed Christopher) to decrypt codes faster than any human could. This creation cut the war by at least 2 years and helped save over 14 million lives. The film also gives us a portrait of a genius tormented by the adversity of everyday life. It’s equally fascinating as it is tragic.
Leading the cast is acting powerhouse and fangirl favourite Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch has been the butt of many a joke but no one can deny his talent. His portrayal of Turing was sympathetic, funny and above all real. A mind like Turing is not without drawbacks. In this case, Turing was almost socially incompetent and almost lacking empathy. How much of it was real or a defense mechanism is unclear, though it hardly matters. He was a unpopular and he didn’t care because that wasn’t important. Revolutionising the world was.
Some of Turing’s life was told in scattered flashbacks to his younger self (brilliantly played by Alex Lawther) and this allows us to really connect with him. It’s easy to see how his schoolboy days as an outcast and his only friend- and arguably his first love -Christopher Morcom (Jack Bannon) were a big impact on his life. So not only did we see a mathematics prodigy, we saw a human being who has experienced hurt and still tried hard to make a positive impact on the world.
Although Cumberbatch was a big presence, he didn’t dominate the film. The cast has some big and talented names. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clark, an intelligent and charismatic woman whose potential is underminded because of her gender, and which would have been wasted if not for Turing. Matthew Goode plays Hugh Alexander, an arrogant cryptanalyst and an award winning chess player who grows to understand the importance of Turing’s ideas. And Rory Kinnear plays Robert Nock, a detective investigating a break in and whose instinct to look into Turing’s past inadvertently leads to Turing’s downfall. These and the other cast members all add life and interest to the film.
The tragedy of The Imitation Game is not only seen in how Turing is treated by most people, but also how much of himself he had to hide and give up. Turing was a gay man in a time where homosexuality was punishable by law. All the honour he achieved was tainted when he was charged with gross indecency. Alan Turing was a war hero but wasn’t thought of as one for decades just because of his sexuality.
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