Over the weekend I went and saw an Oscar contender for best picture, “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, and directed by Morten Tyldum. For those looking to avoid spoilers but want my thoughts anyways: I highly recommend this movie. It is tense, exciting, touching, and the performances are top-notch, especially Benedict Cumberbatch. His was moving and powerful, and between this and Sherlock, guy seems to have a monopoly on geniuses who can’t relate to the normal man. Go see this movie. Now, pressing onward!
The story of Alan Turing is one that I was not greatly familiar with before seeing this movie. I knew that he broke the Enigma machine in World War 2 and that he was gay. That was about it. After seeing this film, I definitely want to know more about the man and will most likely pick up the book that inspired the film, because Alan Turing was a fascinating and tragic human being and I’m curious how much of the film was changed from his real life and dramatized for the screen. Research will be done, and it’s a testament to the film’s quality that it’s prompted me to want to learn more.
The film divides its attention between three different times in Alan Turing’s life, when he was an adolescent at school, his time working on deciphering Enigma, and the time just before and during his prosecution for homosexual acts. The film does an excellent job jumping around between these times, showing us moments that will inform what’s happening at other times in his life, revealing things that crafted the man into what he became.
The time as a young man at school was mostly focused on Alan’s relationship with Christopher, another boy at school who was his only friend. Alan was a social outcast and Christopher was the only one who was able and willing to befriend Alan, understanding the pain of being a social outcast and bonding with him over it. They work on codes together and become very close, Alan developing feelings of love for him. It was heartbreaking (a recurring feeling in this movie) when Christopher died before Alan could learn if his friend loved him back. Though, I believe that he did. I also commend the young actor who portrayed Alan in this time, Alex Lawther, as he did a remarkable job. The scene where he is informed that Christopher has died was one of the finest performances in the film. He conveyed so much emotion and pain without much expression, it was a very strong showing.
Then his time working on breaking the Enigma code, the meat of the film, was also great. We see Alan struggling to work with a team and alienating almost everyone around him, only really being able to cooperate after bringing in Joan Clarke, who is able to befriend him and help him to understand why his colleagues don’t like him. Through her he’s able to gain their trust and even their friendship. Their relationship is the heart of the film and, besides Christopher, she is the only one who Alan loves, probably in his entire life, though in a different way.
The film also does an excellent job of making you understand the frustrations that Alan and his team are feeling. They are working on this project for years without much success, and even when they finally complete Alan’s machine, Christopher, it doesn’t work fast enough for it to help! Everyone was watching Alan, especially his superiors, and expecting him to fail, some even wanting him to fail in order to be rid of his arrogance, and it’s the most stressful thing in the world when Christopher is running and running and producing nothing. You’re right there with Alan, despondent and frustrated with the machine. Then, when Alan figured out a way to cut the time needed for Christopher to figure out the settings by using words that they knew were going to be in the transmission, I practically wanted to stand up and cheer. “Heil Hitler” was Hitler’s undoing. It was magnificent.
Of course, the film then pulled the rug out from under me. The team realized that they couldn’t do anything with the knowledge they had yet. They had to let people die in order to keep the secret that they had broken Enigma, even allowing a colleague’s brother to be sacrificed to keep the secret, along with hundreds of civilians. It’s a tragic situation, and the film makes you feel their pain. However, their work helps them win the war and save even more lives, so all’s well that ends well?
No, of course not. Not for Alan Turing.
The portion of the film devoted to later in his life have the police investigating a robbery in his home. He tries to dissuade their investigation, but as they press onward, they discover that the break in was done by someone who had homosexual relations with Alan, which was illegal at the time in Britain. They barbarically chemically castrate him and turn him into a shell of his former self. He cannot function and falls apart, Joan coming to visit him and seeing the truly tragic state that he is in, shaking and unable to even complete a crossword puzzle, which he so used to enjoy. As I said before, once again the film breaks your heart. This brilliant man who helped save millions of lives destroyed simply because he was attracted to men. Heartbreaking.
The film ends by detailing his achievements, then telling the audience that Alan Turing committed suicide at the age of 41.
I really enjoyed this film and would recommend it to anybody. I think that Alan Turing is an incredibly interesting person, his contributions to society are immeasurable, and his legacy infinitely important. As Joan says in the film, there are so many people alive this day because of him. Even beyond that, our lives would be vastly different if not for his work (I might not be writing this and you reading it in this medium, for example). This film was fantastic and I would definitely recommend it to literally everyone.