War films are made a dime a dozen, because the two world wars have dominated a large part of the cultural discourse of the Western world for the past hundred years. But The Imitation Game is different. While publicized as a story about a wiz mathematician who broke the German code to help win the war, it is really about a man who made a huge contribution to the Allied victory of World War II but was persecuted for being gay. This man eventually committed suicide at only 41 after undergoing forced hormone corrective therapy. It is Alan Turing’s story, a man who most people know very little about, since the people who write history can choose to include and omit people at will.
The Imitation Game is no narrative masterpiece. Confronted with the impossible task of decoding the German Enigma code, Alan Turing, mathematician, logician, and computer scientist (played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch), teamed up with a group of other brilliant code breakers from around Britain (portrayed by Mathew Goode, Allan Leech and Kiera Knightley) come together to defeat the piece of German code brilliance.
Alexandre Desplat’s (Tree of Life fame) stunning music adds the perfect rhythm to this spy thriller that doesn’t have a single frame of boredom or excess. The portrayal of Alan Turing, though central to the film, doesn’t take away from the other small effort made by the story to bring up women’s rights. Keira Knightley’s character, Joan Clarke, shows up for the recruitment test that Turing has organized to hire for his team. The man at the door mocks her claims that she completed the pre-screen crossword and had a place at the test. Joan ends up completing the test in well under the allotted six minutes, stunning everyone (including Turing). Many other scenes expose gender discrimination.
The film is not unique in narrative or texture. Alan Turing is portrayed as an arrogant, extremely self-assured prick who no one likes or can tolerate, but it is his genius that will solve the problem. This is surely part of the “been there seen that” sentiment. However, the film does efficiently sift through one of the greatest challenges that faced the Allies during World War II and brings to light the life of this unknown man who may have cracked the code of the German war machine to help win a war, but was relegated to history as a convicted felon. All kudos to the film to end on a note that speaks to persecution of gay people in the late 19th and early 20th century. Though Turing’s life was cut short, there may be some redemption in the fact that we can acknowledge a man’s genius and that being convicted for being gay wasn’t his fall from grace.
The Imitation Game exposes the extremely formidable acting talent of Cumberbatch and Knightley, the latter of which finally gets to show a glimpse of what she is made of. Be it the 1950s or 2014, our prejudice continues to extract the price of being different.