By Thomas Griffiths (Cardiff)
Let’s face it. Benedict Cumberbatch becoming an actor was one of the most pivotal moments in movie history.
The Imitation Game is directed by Morten Tydlum and stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Mark Strong, Charles Dance and Rory Kinnear. It is a film that is based on a true story about Alan Turing and his intense quest to crack the apparently – uncrackable Enigma machine to help win the Second World War. Now, I never saw any of the trailers for this movie, only the posters showing Benedict Cumberbatch’s face surrounded by numbers, and I didn’t honestly think much of it. Honestly, I don’t tend to rely so heavily on trailers as I used to, given past disappointments (Jupiter Ascending, Terminator Genisys, Pixels, to name a few). Then, finally, I got to see this movie…and it blew me off my feet. And most of that is due to some literally, absolutely heartbreakingly brilliant work by Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch.
Honestly, most people connect Cumberbatch with Sherlock, and the acclaim he receives for his role in that series is mind-blowing and truly well-deserved, but in the process some people disregard that he is brilliant in other things – in 12 Years a Slave he is great, in Star Trek: Into Darkness he is amazing, in The Hobbit he is terrifying and impactful. Honestly, it’s only a matter of time before Benedict Cumberbatch becomes the Michael Caine of the 21st Century. And, in this movie, Cumberbatch is heartbreakingly great in this movie, this is probably one of the best performances in a movie in the 2010s so far. What must be understood is that Cumberbatch is known for playing the enigmatic genius, and in this he is an absolute enigma but also a genius, and that plays right into the signature elements of this movie – I’ll go in depth about that later on.
Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a man who comes off first as something of an obnoxious, annoying pain in the neck, even though he’s a really intelligent guy. And, looking at him first in this movie, you can tell that he gets under people’s skin and people can’t sometimes tell if he’s for real – actually, at some points in the movie, people just look at Turing as if they cannot believe that such a confusing, annoying person exists. In his first scene, Turing is being interviewed by Charles Dance (who, by the way, is terrific in this movie), and this is the first person he cheeses off within thirty seconds of conversation – we learn that Turing only joined up because he was good at crosswords! – and there’s one moment where some people in the audience are thinking ‘Wow! Benedict Cumberbatch, you just cheesed off Tywin Lannister! Not cool!’
One of the most stunning parts of this movie is that the Enigma machine never really makes an appearance in this movie, but it can be considered, in a way, to be the main antagonist of the film because of the situation it puts everyone in. It also brings out another intriguing piece of the film, which is that it depicts people fighting a war without brandishing any guns, and there is this constant, convoluted battle of wills between a small group of really clever, really accomplished people, and a machine. Enigma is ripping the lives of so many people off the face of the earth, despite never appearing in the film or having a personality or character of its own, and the situation that this struggle creates is so compelling that it feels like an entirely different war.
Keira Knightley is in this movie, and she also is phenomenal in this movie. She plays Joan Clarke and is also a really intelligent person, like Turing, and they basically hit it off at first sight without it seeming rushed or generic. The dialogue and chemistry between Cumberbatch and Knightley in this movie is pristinely-written and perfectly depicted, despite the fact that you know it will become a romantic relationship soon enough. I really enjoyed Keira Knightley in this movie, because she stands out as an individual, not just because she is a woman in a world of men, but because her character is entirely aware of her own situation and of others’ situations – she even contradicts a person when he accuses her of cheating in a test, and is subtly accusing him of discriminating her for her gender.
Another great performance is from Mark Strong, and in this film it’s discovered that he works for MI6 and is basically a supervisor to the process of cracking the Enigma. In my opinion, his performance was very, very subtle, in that he didn’t have to put in as much effort as Cumberbatch or Knightley, not even Charles Dance, but he still comes off as a great actor. Rory Kinnear, in the scenes that he appears in where he’s speaking with Turing in the future, is also very good. However, both of these people are trumped by Alex Lawther, who plays a much younger Alan Turing, where we learn that he was unpopular in school because of his introverted, eccentric behaviour that attracted bullying and withdrawal from others, except for this one boy Christopher – and we also learn that Turing had a personal crush on Christopher.
That is the true struggle for Alan Turing in this movie – he is gay. He has struggled with that his entire life, and constantly fought to conceal that edge of him because, as absolutely mad as it sounds, it was literally illegal to be gay, and people could be chemically castrated if it was discovered that they were gay – it’s heartbreaking to believe that this actually happened on this Earth! Alex Lawther played a young Turing perfectly, despite an under-abundance of screen-time for him, and through him we learn how Christopher influenced him, how he got him interested in codes, how he protected him in school, how Turing ultimately felt that Christopher was the one person who gave a damn about him. And, when Christopher dies, we feel Turing’s pain through the emotional performance of his actor. And we understand why he has become the person he is, and why he acts the way he does – his obnoxious, cold side is in actuality a defence mechanism that he has clung to for so long it became a contributing part of his personality.
The pressures of the Second World War are very apparent in this movie – Charles Dance’s character is pressured by his need to break the code and save British lives, there’s one of Turing’s team who has a close relative who, at one point, they have to risk allowing to die to keep their mission secret, and even news that there is a Soviet spy in the group who, eventually, threatens to reveal Turing’s homosexuality if he unearths his identity. This is also the main struggle of the film, the struggle to keep one’s identity a secret – the ‘Imitation Game’ is the imitation of somebody that you’re not, in this case the imitation of a normal person and not somebody whose sexuality alone is literally illegal. In the future, when Turing reveals the circumstances of his time at Bletchley, he balances his accomplishments versus his sexuality – is he a war hero, or a criminal? That’s a very difficult balance when one considers the 1940s society and it’s depicted really finely in this film. The best element of this scene is when Rory Kinnear’s character says he can’t judge Turing, and Turing almost hesitantly says ‘You are no help to me at all’, and that tells us that, after all these years, Turing is still trying to figure out his own identity – in this scene, this one scene, we begin to realise just how much of a broken man he was.
One of the best scenes in the entire film is a scene near the end when Turing and Joan reunite nearly ten years following the end of the war, and it is revealed that he was given a choice upon his arrest for homosexuality – chemical castration, or two years in prison. That is probably one of the most monstrous decisions portrayed in a war film, when one considers the circumstances and the person involved. There is this heartbreaking moment in that scene where Cumberbatch bursts out crying that they could take ‘Christopher’ from him, and the best thing about that moment is that, if this role was given to someone other than Cumberbatch, then instead of tragic it would have been hilarious – when Benedict Cumberbatch tears up in this scene, I was left stunned by how amazingly he pulled it off, it looked so realistic. He brings out the gravity of Turing’s situation so powerfully that it almost makes you forget that you are watching a movie, rather something that is actually happening in front of you.
At the very end of this movie, we learn that Turing soon committed suicide at 41 years old. That is so unbelievably sad, to think that after all the things he endured he had to take his own life.
My one and only issue with the movie is, while there are no tonal inconsistencies with the movie, there are times where Turing’s interrogation, though intriguing, bog the film down a bit and some people would end up wondering when we will return to the wartime part of the film. Apart from that, I think that The Imitation Game is one of the best films of 2014, and probably the best film Cumberbatch has starred in so far. Despite its one, tiny flaw I think that it deserves full marks.