The cracking of the Enigma Code is a well-known turning point in World War 2. Less well known is the role of Alan Turing, the father of computer science, in cracking the code. The Imitation Game involves the Enigma code, but it is a story of a far greater enigma: Turing himself. To understand Turing, the film delves not only his wartime service, but his difficult childhood, and his post-war downfall, to help decipher the mind of a genius.
The film suffers the usual flaw of a biopic: the focus on Turing narrows the scope of the film and squeezes out all but a few central characters. This is a drawback if you’re wanting a war movie; broad drama and a cast of thousands are necessary to show the scale of the conflict. But this is not a war movie. It is an examination of one man, and so close focus is mandatory. This does mean little depth for most other characters, but it is forgivable for the insight we gain into Turing’s character.
The other major flaw is the ‘famous face’ effect. With big names like Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, there is a risk of seeing the actor rather than the character. Cumberbatch overcomes this with a masterful performance; you soon forget who he is, so absorbing is the man he has become. The portrayal is helped along by an unsettlingly intense young Turing (Alex Lawther).
Less successful Keira Knightley as the token girl, Joan Clarke. It is hard to see her as anything other than Keira Knightley in period costume whenever she wafts onto screen. There is nothing to her clichéd character to make the audience see beyond the actress to who she portrays.
Aside from Knightley, this is an excellent and very clever film. The different periods of Turing’s life weave together seamlessly, complementing and explaining each other at every turn. It also refrains from giving a definitive answer as to who or what Turing is, allowing you to decide for yourself. It is a version of Turing’s famous test: We can only discover who or what we are communicating with from our perceptions of its responses. We determine whether it is machine or man, and what manner of man or machine, from how it responds to us. And so it is with Turing: everyone will perceive him to be something unique.
This is a movie that is both simple on first glance, and incredibly complex underneath the surface, like the meaningless groups of letters that, when decrypted, become secret messages of love and of war. Highly recommended.