The Imitation Game is, beyond all else, an ambitious movie. It tackles a huge number of Very Important Issues: World War II code breakers, secret government agencies, Soviet spies, scientific breakthroughs, social outcasts, possible Asperger’s/autism, repressed homosexuality, oppression and persecution… there is no end to the grandness of this movie. And to its credit, the movie navigates all these issues surprisingly well. To do so, there’s definitely a simplification, a glossing over, of the entire story. And what a story it is. Turing’s life was a remarkable one, and it seems a crime to skip over or condense any part of it. But this is filmmaking, and that’s the way it goes. Still, due to a quick pace and a spectacular cast, the whole thing works. It is as heartbreaking as it set out to be, with enough laughs to actually be a (very, very depressing) crowd-pleaser.
Most of the film focuses on Turing’s time as a secret government codebreaker during World War II. It also jumps back to his prep school days, with a young Alan giving us his best scrunch-faced Cumberbatch impression, and ahead to an investigation into his life, driven by an oddly obsessed detective. But in the movie’s present, Turing has taken a position at Bletchley Park, a government site disguised as a radio factory, not because he cares about “politics” or the war (the film makes it VERY clear that he doesn’t really care about anything— definitely not anyONE), but because he likes puzzles. He is brought on as part of a team looking to crack the uncrackable Nazi Enigma code machine. Because Turing *DOES NOT GET ALONG WITH PEOPLE* (in case you didn’t catch that fact yet, what with his being an ass and everyone hating him all the time), he quickly becomes frustrated with the rest of the group, enlists the help of Winston Churchill to get himself promoted, and fires half the team. He restaffs with people who appreciate puzzles as he does— including *gasp* a WOMAN (played brilliantly by Keira Knightley in what will for sure be remembered as one of the best performances of her career)— and sets to work building a new machine. The film does a better than decent job of dumbing down the science to a point where the audience can understand it, but doesn’t appreciate the genius behind it any less. In a nutshell, Alan knows that they can’t crack codes one at a time. To beat the machine, they need to build a better machine. And thus he sets out to make what is the basis for the modern computer. (Or, as Steven put it, he “invented the information age.”
Because it’s hard to talk about the movie without talking about its entirety, this paragraph will include *SPOILERS OF ACTUAL HISTORICAL EVENTS*. Movie Turing is a complicated man. He’s fighting multiple battles. He’s fighting against the Nazis, kind of, but more than that he’s fighting against his own mind—trying to solve an unsolvable puzzle. He’s fighting against the bureaucracy, who storm in every so often, trying to unplug his big machine that they don’t understand. It’s really one not so subtle step from ape madness.
He’s fighting against the world because remember, he doesn’t understand people and oh my god his code breaking is a metaphor because humanity is the one code he can’t crack. And finally, he’s fighting against the oppressive social mores of the time. Despite living in a time when homosexuality was illegal, he ever seems to feel ashamed or defensive of his own homosexuality; yet his theoretical oppression is briefly, covertly talked about and then hastily tacked on as sort of a running flash-forward epilogue. But as many battles as Movie Turing is fighting, as complicated as he is, and as gripping as Benedict Cumberbatch’s wonderfully twitchy performance is, Real Life Turing is even more complicated. If anything, the movie version of the man seems simplified, compartmentalized, and well thought out.
The biggest problem with The Imitation Game is that it is too good. It is too glossy, too quick to really tell this story: the story of a man who gave everything and lost everything, who valued knowledge so much he *MORE REAL LIFE SPOILERS HERE, SORRY* killed himself by injecting cyanide into an apple, that original sinful symbol. This movie is good, and it is important in getting this still relatively unknown story told, but when it comes down to it, it is the Oscar-friendly version of Turing’s life: Slick and shiny and grand. It will win awards and it will deserve them, but ultimately, it may leave you wishing you had just watched a documentary of Turing’s life instead.