I’ll open my writing about “The Imitation Game” with the exact question that opened my writing about “The Theory of Everything”: what do we know about Alan Turing? Only, the answers are not similarly various. Alan Turing is... a mathematician. It is what he only is. Or is it?
I believe not many people know who Alan Turing is. Compared to Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing is so far less famous. “The Imitation Game”, just like “The Theory of Everything”, is not exactly a biography about famous people in the history of science, because to call the two a biography sounds a bit exaggerating. They both talk about scientists but they don’t really talk about the science itself. We are invited to know who these famous people are but we are restricted to see what these people are famous for.
Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), in this movie, is described as an awkward guy. A clean-cut type. A kind of guy who was bullied as a kid (which he was). A serious guy; even when people are making jokes he thinks that they are serious. His sentences are often stammered, but his words are exact, sharp. A genius? I don’t know how the way someone looks has anything to do with whether he is a genius. It’s just the dialogue that shows us that he is a genius.
And gay. He is gay. Not until several minutes running to the film’s second half that we know that he is homosexual. If you haven’t known about this until you read this writing then I have to tell you that this is obviously not a spoiler, since it is just several clicks away to read one or two paragraphs on Wikipedia page of him. But we are given a sense that Morten Tyldum (the director) and Graham Moore (the writer) wanted to keep this a surprise, because they introduced Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) earlier. We are given a sense that Alan had a crush on Joan, at least since Alan looked at her differently when she came late to the test to join Alan’s team to break Enigma.
Enigma is... oh, wait a sec, have I told you that it was in a war? “The Imitation Game” takes place in United Kingdom during World War II. In short, to win the war Britain had to defeat German. And to defeat German, Alan and his team had to break—or, more precisely, decrypt—Enigma. German sent encrypted messages to the armies so that no one can understand the messages without using Enigma; that is the least that I know because, hell, there isn’t enough explanation about how Enigma worked and how the eff encrypted messages could be decrypted. It looks like a typewriter, only when you type on it, it produced different letters.
And the rest of the movie is about how the team tried to beat the clock to finish Christopher, a machine named after Alan’s old bromance schoolmate (it wasn’t apparent that it is a gay relationship until Alan got that “I LOVE YOU” encrypted letter from Christopher, was it?) that was meant to translate Enigma-coded messages. There is also a bit of a kind of rivalry there between Alan and Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), another cryptographer hired by the govt, who finally turned into a good partnership. The longer they finished Christopher, the longer the war would be, and of course the more victims would fall. We can see what a critical situation that the team faced, only we can’t really follow them with our emotion because, again, we don’t know what they were doing.
Perhaps it is assumed that math, or specifically cryptography, is too cryptic to be understood by average viewers so the filmmakers decided not to talk too much about it. Maybe they showed it in a glimpse, like in a scene where young Alan re-wrote meaningless words into dictionary words letter by letter. Only it feels less scientific, less than something that built up to a super important field of knowledge that could win a war. This is not a documentary, of course, but why don’t wow us with some “magical moments” maybe like the mathematical-patterned tie in “A Beautiful Mind” or even Facemash’s 22,000 hits in “The Social Network”?
Why can’t we see how amazing Alan Turing is?
Not only that, my criticism towards the movie is in how it depicts homosexuality in famous people in history. I don’t expect some vulgar sex scenes between Benedict Cumberbatch with another actor to make it obvious; it’s just there was a sense that everything has to be told in words. I don’t know if it’s me that cannot see the way Alan saw his male teammate that might imply his homosexuality but why would it take a wordy “You’re a homosexual?” question on which Alan said yes to to show us that he is a gay?
And it might be a better idea to make some drama about how he struggled with his sexual orientation. It’s illegal to be a gay man in Britain at that time, so why bother talk gibberish about unimportant competition or even science-versus-war instead of showing Alan’s real struggle? Of course, it depends on the filmmaker’s intention about which part he wanted to put his focus on, but shouldn’t people know about how Alan ended up committing suicide because of chemical castration sentenced by the government? Was it reaally not that important so it has to be told (again) with one or two sentences near ending?
I don’t know. Some people might find this offensive. And hurtful.
Sadly, they said a film doesn't have to explain everything. Sadly...
My 3.5-star is to appreciate Benedict’s incredible performance and smooth chemistry with Keira Knightley. And a good observation to the situation of war. On top of that, I think “The Imitation Game” is a kind of wrong-focused biography of (unfortunately) one of the most important people in the long history of science. I feel uneasy about it. Good luck with your award season, Mr. Cumberbatch.
THE IMITATION GAME
2014 / Biography, Drama, Thriller / 114 min / PG-13
cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley,
Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Charles Dance,
Rory Kinnear, Matthew Beard, et al.
based on the book "Alan Turing: The Enigma"
by Andrew Hodges, screenplay by Graham Moore
directed by Morten Tyldum