Movie Review: The Imitation Game
In 1939, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, “Penguins of Madagascar“) marches into Britain’s top-secret Government Code and Cypher School, applying for a job as a cryptographer. He spars with the commander in charge of the program, Commander Alexander Denniston (Charles Dance), astutely stating that the government is working on a stealth project, deciphering Enigma, a major communication device captured from the Germans. Enimga is a device that, if successfully decoded, would reveal military strategies and surprised attack plans deployed by the Nazis.
But Enigma is truly, well, an enigma. It is enigmatically more complicated than it looks because the device resets itself every midnight, rendering the day’s efforts fruitless the next day. There are 159 million combinations and it would take 29 million years for humans to crack every possibility.
Alan convinces the commander that he’s up to the task and gets the job, although he starts on an uneasy footing. He’s introduced to Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong, “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Sherlock Holmes”), the head of the newly formed MI:6, and a team of cryptographers and linguists. Arrogant and antisocial, he butt heads with the team leader immediately, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode, “Leap Year”) and doesn’t earn brownie points from the team. Alan makes it known that he works best alone and wants his own team. He surreptitiously finds a way to make it happen, gets promoted to be the lead, and reshapes the team.
Alan knows that the odds are against them, so he aspires for something bigger. With significant government funding on the line, he focuses all his efforts into creating a machine, named Christopher, that could instantly decode those millions of complicated codes and thus defeat Enigma. From flashbacks, we learn about Alan’s childhood, bullied and alone, and also his close connection to another boy, Christopher. Alan envisions the machine to be universal, something that would understand all things. That machine is a precursor to modern-day computers.
A new cryptographer, Joan Clarke, (Keira Knightly, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”) joins the team, having solved an advertised crossword puzzle and finished the required test faster than all her male counterparts. Initially mistaken as a secretary, a common profession at that time for women, she proves to be instrumental in softening up Alan and improving his relationships. He subsequently earns respect and loyalty from his team, and the two also grow close in the process.
During trial and error with the machine, top brasses are growing impatient with Alan and funding runs out. To top it off, the commander is breathing down his neck since he is also suspected for being a Soviet spy. The team sticks together and Alan eventually has his “Eureka” moment. The machine finally works.
A defining moment in the film happens where the team, now knowing the Germans’ plans of attack, decides on the next course of action, and in essence, decides who lives and dies. Such power. Such moral dilemma. It painfully remains a secret that they have decoded Enigma so that the Germans would never suspect and adjust their strategies accordingly. Historians have contributed this achievement to shortening World War II by more than a couple of years and saving millions of lives.
If one were to conjure up a heroic character, on the surface, it would be hard pressed to imagine someone like Alan Turing. Yet he is, in unimaginable ways. And knowing how he lives towards the end of his life, where he’s forced to reveal everything to a detective (Rory Kinnear) during an interrogation – after all he’s contributed to humanity – makes it the more tragic.
Fear for the unknown, intolerance for a lifestyle that doesn’t conform to society’s standard, homosexuality, treated as a a crime at that time, destroys this tremendous man’s life. There’s a deeply personal scene towards the end between Cumberbatch and Knightly. Powerfully performed, especially by Cumberbatch, who will be a contender to Eddie Redmayne’s performance in “The Theory of Everything” come awards time.
“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of that do the things no one can imagine.” There are those people who achieve unimaginable things behind the scene, make lasting impacts and change history. Alan Turing is undoubtedly one of those.
Paced like a ticking clock and suspensefully unfolded, “The Imitation Game” purposefully hits the mark in shining the light on one the most heroic figures of the 20th century.
Copyright (c) 2015. Nathalia Aryani.