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Home » Culture and Criticism

30/31: The Imitation Game

Submitted by on January 30, 2015 – 9:02 PM5 Comments
Photo: The Weinstein Company

Photo: The Weinstein Company

"No, not that one, Nana; the other one, with Sherlock."

The Imitation Game has teasing flashes of a great movie: Hugh's (Matthew Goode) eloquent "this fucking guy" hand gesture as Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) has another stiff attack of social-cue blindness; the crossword montage, each solver making the same simultaneously anxious and eager face, and the texture of all those people piled together in the tunnel, waiting out an air raid; Mark Strong's bone-dry Stewart Menzies of MI-6. That movie, My Dinner With Turing, in which Menzies and the inventor of the computer meet periodically to discuss probability and code, is a great movie. 33 Short Films About Christopher, that's a great movie: a few Malickian vignettes from school, with no dialogue, and the rest all about building and testing the machines. The Bletchley Circle managed to translate the work these brilliant men and women did at "the Park" for civilians, and make it plottable; there's no reason TIG couldn't as well.

But no, it pantses around with Turing's public-school origin story and first stirrings of feeling for another boy for what seems like half the film, and can't seem to deliver exposition about England's unconscionable homosexuality statutes without sounding like filmstrip narration. After another, sweatier scene in which the Bletchley group realizes they can't stop a convoy attack because they'll signal the Germans that they've cracked the Enigma machine, and Peter (Matthew Beard) begs them to divert just one ship, the one his brother's on, we have Joan (Keira Knightley, in two thankless dimensions) looking out the window at a meeting with Menzies at the soldiers' hospital just feet away from the cafe, the amputees and their bloody stumps coming and going, painfully. Do you get it? Turing, the first to apprehend the predicament, reacts the least emotionally to it. Do you get that too?

Are you quite sure?

The maths Turing never lost faith in? Too hard for us to follow. The circumstances of his arrest, sentencing, and suicide? Too sordid. The possibly-spectrum social maladroitness he had to swim upstream against his whole life? Evidently considered a gold mine, played by turns for pathos, plot thickener, and hilarity (Allen Leech's patience in the face of that last is remarkable). And for all that, The Imitation Game isn't bad; it just bets the wrong ponies, and it's a bit sad to me that the life of this man, who could fly over numbers and equations of great size and complexity and see all of them, ends up Miramaxed down to "great patriot suffers heartbreak, saves country, dies in disgrace." Because if it's going to be that simple, it ought then to be more elegant. This is The King's Cipher.

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5 Comments »

  • cinderkeys says:

    The movie worked for me overall, despite the Miramaxing (heh) and the repeated "It's the people no one imagines anything of" line that nobody in real life would ever say out loud. But I cannot forgive this:

    After another, sweatier scene in which the Bletchley group realizes they can't stop a convoy attack because they'll signal the Germans that they've cracked the Enigma machine …

    Because this NEVER OCCURS TO ANYBODY until they crack the code? At the very least, you'd assume Spy Guy would have thought it through and instructed our heroes not to show their cipher cards if and when they succeed.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    It also didn't occur to THE FINEST CRYPTOGRAPHIC MINDS IN BRITAIN to look at frequently-used words as a base key until an hour into the film. To sacrifice that particular point of credibility for the sake of conventional narrative "they've had a breakthrough, huzzah!" structure isn't great.

    It's a handsome film with likable, competent actors that, like King's Speech, seemed better to me than it really was for a while.

  • DensityDuck says:

    This movie's story resembled the actual Enigma codebreaking effort about as much as "U-571" did.

  • Stanley says:

    This was such a disappointing pallid by-the-numbers biopic. Alan Turing is clearly a fascinating figure, but this struck me as the worst kind of stolid, unimaginative film-making. From the way they dicked around with the actual facts to make a more conventional narrative to the plodding focus on Turing's schooldays (though, seriously, burying someone under the floor boards? British public school bullies do not fuck around) to the glossing over of Turing's actual tragic end…serviceable but uninspiring.

    And, honestly…"Today, we call it a computer." Set to swelling orchestration. GAG. GOD. WE KNOW.

  • Jaybird says:

    Too much Bandersnatch, no Hiddleston. Ergo: I will not watch.

    Yes, it really has gotten that simple for me. Apparently, I am twelve. Y'all bring up some very good points, but the ones I listed are the ones that stopped me. Sorry.

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