By Susmita Abani:
Alan eyes his machine intently as its cogs rotate to no avail. Over its endless chugging, he discerns the sound of Commander Alistair Denniston charging toward the hut with his guards. “No, no, no” Alan thinks aloud, and rushes to lock the door, hurling his weight against it to prevent Denniston from entering. To his dismay, the guards storm through, crushing Alan’s feeble defence by pulling the cables loose, and bringing his beautiful machine to a shuddering halt. “One month!” the Commander cries diabolically, daring Alan and his team with an ultimatum – to accomplish the towering feat of breaking Enigma within four short weeks.
The Imitation Game is a film of layers. At face value, it depicts snapshots of Alan Turing’s life before, during and after the Second World War. A formidable mathematician, cryptanalyst, marathon athlete and crossword enthusiast – Alan Turing is best known for pioneering computer science, and being a major contributor in deciphering Nazi Naval communications encoded by the German Enigma machine. Unlike his colleagues at Bletchley Park who challenged Enigma with manual analysis, Turing aspires to build a counter decoding device engineered to check the Enigma machine’s 1.8×1020 unique settings at speed – an idea that both sets him apart, and isolates him in his endeavours.
On a deeper level, the film also examines the impacts of Turing’s childhood friendships that echoed through his adult life. It explores the darker sides of history, a time when the trajectory of one’s brilliant career could be overshadowed by society’s unwillingness to accept people for their gender, sexuality or in essence, who they truly were. For me, the film is as much about this context as it is about Turing’s achievements, and although it makes sure to touch on the social situations of that era, it left me desiring to see more.
Director Morten Tyldum has ensured that every phase in Turing and his comrades’ journey in the British Government Code and Cipher School headquarters was a lasting cinematic experience. The highs and the lows of Turing’s social struggles within an organisational hierarchy; his team’s unanticipated debacles and inspirational successes in their race against time to solve a puzzle that spells loss of lives at each wrong turn are dramatically captured – leading the audience through a thrilling ride to its intended message: that “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do things that no one can imagine”.
Benedict Cumberbatch, renowned for his role in the hit TV series Sherlock, has again delivered a superb performance as Turing by embodying his eccentric but conflicting persona with ease. Kiera Knightly, an actress not unfamiliar with carrying powerful female roles as exemplified by her work in Anna Karenina, felt authentic as the ambitious mathematician Joan Clarke. The original soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat complemented the film’s narrative effectively – juxtaposing a frantic piano piece that mimics the sound of Turing’s calculating brain with an eerie crescendo for the more intriguing scenes.
With so many positive elements, it’s unfortunate that The Imitation Game has garnered criticism for its factual gaps with details of Turing’s life. The film’s creators use numerous modifications of actual occurrences as a means to elevate Turing’s ingenuity, and to emphasise the misfortunes that afflicted him. These inaccuracies disappointingly corrupt the film’s integrity to a degree – but are comparable to its rival Best Picture Oscar nominees this year – The Theory of Everything and Selma – portraying Stephen Hawking and Martin Luther King respectively. By their larger than life characterisations of extraordinary individuals, and exaggerations of the poignancy of their personal lives, these films do a good job at entertaining their audiences despite their distortion of reality.
The successes of The Imitation Game thus far outweigh its departures from historical truth. A suspenseful, intriguing and emotional biopic with stellar performances, The Imitation Game is undoubtedly worthy of its Oscar buzz, and an experience to remember.