When Hank Green asks Morten Tyldum, the director of the British historical drama, The Imitation Game, which brings the prodigious mathematician Alan Turing’s life to the screen, how he tried to capture the scientific discoveries made by Turing in an interview, he replies that as filmmakers, their job is to capture moments – the Eureka moments and the pivotal moments. And, that is precisely what The Imitation Game manages to capture.
The Imitation Game focuses on Turing’s work during World War II on deciphering the codes encrypted by the German encryption device, the Enigma Machine. We follow Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, along with his colleagues as they work for the British Secret Service, MI6. Together with a series of flashbacks to Turing’s days as a student of Sherborne School for Boys during the 1930s and flash forwards to the investigation of the burglary in his house during 1951, the film crafts a compelling narrative about Turing’s life and his influential career.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing with a steady gravitas that brings depth to Turing’s sufferings and his joys, conveying to the audience the secret burden of Turing’s homosexuality solely through the quiet despondency in his gaze. Keira Knightley, who plays the role of his colleague and fiancée Joan Clarke, is equally brilliant in her portrayal of the woman who was unfazed by the confession of Turing’s homosexuality.
Though the filmmakers gave enough time and emphasis to the strong camaraderie that exists between Joan and Turing, the focus of the movie never wavers from Turing. The narrator of the film is Turing himself telling his life story to the police officer who is interrogating him after chancing upon evidence that Turing is a homosexual.
It is here that viewers are introduced to the famous Turing Test, where a blindfolded judge verifies whether the subject they are speaking with is a human or a machine. And, as Cumberbatch playing Turing asks the officer in his steady voice to pay attention to what he has to say and to decide whether he is “a person”, “a war hero” or “a criminal”, the overwhelmed man replies, “I can’t judge you.”
Perhaps, it is here viewers begin to realise with a sinking feeling what might happen next. Homosexuality, at the time, was illegal in Britain. And, even a genius like Turing was not exempt from a “gross indecency” lawsuit. And, it is with this short monologue that the film asks the audience to ponder. It asks them to question the unfairness of being reduced to a sexual orientation the moment one is found to differ from the “legal acceptance” of heterosexuality.
It is also this monologue delivered poignantly by Cumberbatch that connects his scientific work with the philosophical, because it allows the audience to delve into the mind of Turing who has had to play a role his entire life- the role of the straight man. A brilliant mind who has had to accept that his being a homosexual man will invalidate all the influential work he had done that has now granted him the title – The inventor of the computer. A war hero who had to choose chemical castration as a “cure” for his homosexuality so that he would not be separated from the things he loved the most, his Turing Machines. A genius whose life sadly ended at 41.
At its core, The Imitation Game is a respectful portrayal of a genius mathematician whose life was cut short by the injustice and prejudice of the law. And in doing so, the film manages to pay a worthy tribute to Turing whose work on code-breaking the Enigma Machine is assumed to have shortened World War II by years. It is a dramatisation, yes.
However, it is one that sheds light on an overlooked yet crucial part of Turing’s identity and asks the audience to think carefully on the consequences of shunning people who are different, people “who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”.
Miftahul is a curly bigfoot who can be seen reading — whenever you spot her, that is. Occasionally, she writes.