To pull of this genius routine, one has to actually BE a genius

To pull of this genius routine, one has to actually BE a genius

The key to THE IMITATION GAME arrives at about its halfway point. While being interrogated by the police, Alan Turing explains a theory he’s working on and how it is built around a game. The game is to determine whether the person you converse with is being truthful, or telling great deceits; whether they are “man or machine”. What it underlines is that in order to keep a secret, one has to be a good liar. It then begs the question, what great good could possibly require such duplicity…and should we wonder about those who are good liars?

THE IMITATION GAME is the story of Alan Turning (Benedict Cumberbatch). As the film begins we learn that his house has been burgled, and when the authorities arrive to inspect the damage, Turing curtly dismisses them. Why? What is Turing trying to hide? When he is brought into the station for questioning, the lead inspector on the case believes the situation might have something to do with Turing’s suspiciously blank military record.

That begs the question: What did Alan Turing do during the war?

As World War II unfolded, The Allies cannot get much of a foothold for counter-intelligence thanks to the Nazis employment of The Enigma Machine. The device allows every piece of wire communication to be encrypted, with a primer that resets every day at midnight. The reset means that any work done on cracking that day’s encrypted messages is rendered useless at the witching hour, since it will not help breaking the next day’s codes.

In the face of this, the British government assembles a team of code-breaking mathematicians. Their hope is to either get faster at breaking the encoded Nazi communications, or develop a way to break the encryption altogether. The project is extremely top-secret; nobody can know it is happening – nobody can know of its result, good or bad. Some believe the result will come through natural codebreaking; Turning believes that the answer lies in the development of a better machine.

Turing, a socially maladjusted genius heads up the team made up of Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech), and Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard). When an early shuffling of the deck has Turing looking for more help, Turning comes across Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley). Clarke is the one who’s able to finally get through to Turing – the one who helps him understand how to relate to people and channel his natural brilliance. It might even be Clarke’s support that allows him to deal with the fact that he’s a closeted homosexual (a fact that only Cairncross is able to deduce).

It’s this blend of personal and professional support that helps Turning find the inner fortitude to lead the team…to develop his machine…and to lie for the safety of his country, and those he cares about.

Cumberbatch and Knightley


One of the most surprising things about THE IMITATION GAME might actually be how swiftly it moves considering the weight of the subject matter. The film seems to understand that much of its story isn’t entirely cinematic – how much trial-and-error can one show? Likewise, how many minutes should be dedicated to mathematicians feverishly scribbling in an isolated room? The film is paced in a way that it never lingers too long on any one piece of problem-solving, which keeps us lowly laymen in the fight.

Oddly though, sometimes that succinctness and brevity works against the film, especially when it comes to exploring the depths of Turing’s social maladjustment. He’s a closeted homosexual at a time where being out of the closet is illegal. Likewise, he demonstrates Aspergers-like symptoms, but that two is really only paid lip-service. The stones of this plot usually skip across the surface of the pond, where a better film would have allowed one or two of them to sink deeper into the depths.

This is especially a shame because Benedict Cumberbatch sparkles with what he’s given. These days, that’s par for the course with Cumberbatch, but here he especially shines. He dials back his usual enigmatic charm and finds a way to embody Turning’s awkwardness without getting twitchy. Pity he isn’t given a few more of those personal moments to employ his talent on.

Ultimately, what THE IMITATION GAME wants us to see is that it’s the smallest details that can make the biggest difference. For better and for worse, they are what inspire the answers to life’s greatest challenges. Whether it be seeing the way an apple falls, or noticing the way the shadows fall on the ground, sometimes the greatest understandings of how to solve an “insolvable problem” come down to the smallest details. And so it is with film. Grand films are sometimes built around grand moments, but so many of them are fuelled by smaller moments – much of it relating to Turing and Clarke. Their connection is expressed just as much through the smallest gestures as it is through the loving embraces. For instance, when Clarke completes her entry test in record time, we see Turing’s mouth twitch upward in the faintest hint of a smile.

For someone as maladjusted as he, this might as well be a moonlight serenade – and if you blink, you’ll miss it.

What you won’t miss is the overarching theme that deals with the lies we tell and how they can sometimes serve a greater truth. It seems counter-intuitive to say that lying is a necessary part of society, but it’s a fact of life. If we knew the complete truth about everything that goes on around us, we would never sleep at night. So we need to be deceived by certain powers that be. Those lies facilitate a greater truth – a necessary evil that enables a grander good.

Therein lies the crux of THE IMITATION GAME. Turing’s remoteness and capacity for dishonesty isn’t a sign of sociopathy. While it is a byproduct of his social anxiety, it is not emblematic of any sort of misanthropy or feeling of superiority. Instead it’s a sign of great inner fragility, and the want to protect himself from further damage. When that fragility gets confronted by Clarke, Cairncross, or the authorities, we see cracks appear in the walls that he has put up around himself. It’s then that we feel a want to repair those cracks, instead of hammering them harder and exposing his dishonesty.

There’s no virtue in deception, but if ever there was an argument in its favour, its name is Alan Turing.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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