An ordinary take on a conflicted man.
In August 2014, Queen Elizabeth granted a formal pardon to Alan Turing, famed code-breaker whose intelligence work in the Second World War was a significant development in computer science. To outsiders during the war, Turing was a brilliant mathematician, but his accomplishments to help the Allies were not widely known for years. He lived the remainder of his life balancing two secrets: his invention of the Bombe, the machine that intercepted German codes daily, and his homosexuality, for which he was eventually tried and sentenced to chemical castration. He killed himself when he was forty-one.
You won’t find this inglorious ending in Harvey Weinstein’s new movie The Imitation Game. And it is a Weinstein, first and foremost. Graham Moore’s screenplay hits every box on the awards-bait checklist, stretching Turing’s singularity into something more universal and relatable. In dialogue made for a highlight reel, Joan Clarke, a fellow code-breaker who becomes Turing’s closest companion, says, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”
Benedict Cumberbatch does what he can to create a more specific, odder, neurotic Turing. He has the right touch; he’s accustomed to playing brilliant but misunderstood men, and doesn’t seem to beg for our sympathies. Keira Knightley, who always wants us to like her, is actually quite good as Joan, especially when she tells off Alan for holding her back.
The second half—once Turing has created his code-breaking machine—takes a more interesting path: the dehumanizing cost their secrets take. Turing and his intelligence team weigh the ethics of deciding what intelligence to release, saving many lives long-term at the price of soldiers and U-boats each day. Turing’s choice to preserve his invention in secret feels both heroic and cruel—an unavoidable narcissism, a paradox an ordinary man couldn’t reconcile. Maybe he never did. But I wanted to see his unraveling, warts and all; the way he managed this impossible responsibility.
Director Morten Tyldum finishes on a flashback to a bonfire, the team burning all traces of their work in the war, in slow motion with inspiring music. His death—the true consequence of a life unheralded till now—is quickly dispatched in overlaying text, followed by text about Turing machines, now computers. Machine overtakes man in the end.