“The Imitation Game”: Movie Review

By Fariha Mostafiz

The Oscar-winning “The Imitation Game” is a suspenseful drama that offers a window into the complicated life of one of the most famous mathematicians of the twentieth century. Delicately packed with layers of secrets stacked atop secrets, it contains a rich atmosphere and a powerful delivery that cannot be topped.

Released in late November of 2014, this highly-anticipated movie reveals the life of young British mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the years of World War II. Turing is offered a job in Bletchley Park, where he joins the cryptography team to try and decrypt the Nazi Enigma machine. The Enigma machine has led to the deaths of thousands in the war, and it is virtually impossible to decrypt, for the machine is reset every twenty-four hours. Though brilliant in his own right, Turing possesses a cavalier attitude that creates a discrepancy between himself and the members of his team. His attitude, coupled with his awkward and nonexistent social skills, makes for a number of failed attempts to decrypt Enigma.

Turing spends his time constructing a machine of his own design rather than contributing to the continual failures of the team. Lacking funds and adequate team members, Turing requests that he be put in charge of the Enigma project. His wish is granted; his machine, affectionately nicknamed Christopher, is created; and his team is changed to include Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), John Cairncross (Allen Leech), Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard), and Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley).

Initially, the team is hopeful that Christopher will help turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies. But Christopher struggles to decipher the codes within the crucial time frame, and high-strung tensions threaten to ruin the team itself. It takes a tremendous amount of effort on Turing’s part to loosen his attitude to welcome the team members as colleagues before the team can function smoothly under his command.

Turing eventually has an epiphany that leads to the reprogramming of Christopher, and the machine finally decrypts a Nazi message. But contrary to what one would think, the machine’s successful deciphering does not provide any sort of relief to the cryptography team. Turing is the first to realize that successful decryptions are double-edged swords: if they were to act on every decoded message, the Germans would eventually realize Enigma had been broken. The realization forces Turing and the other four cryptographers to intervene on some messages, but not others.

An arduous decision is made not to intervene on the Nazi-planned attack of a British passenger convoy. The bitter decision is only exacerbated when Peter Hilton reveals his brother is on the convoy. It is a painful scene to watch, as Peter breaks down and begs a grimly-determined Turing to do something to prevent the Nazi attack.

The Imitation Gamerefers metaphorically to Turing himself, for he learned to make himself tolerable and cooperate with others by imitating their behavior. The script is taken from Andrew Hodges’ 700-page, Alan Turing: The Enigma. It runs for 114 minutes, and each minute is more painful to bear than the last. Viewers will be torn between Cumberbatch’s sensitive portrayal of Turing and the choking atmosphere of secrecy that surrounds the five cryptographers.

The performances delivered by each of the actors is superb, especially Cumberbatch’s; he simply excels when given the task to play intricate geniuses. Keira Knightley also shines on-screen as the only female cryptographer on the team. Her character is a soothing element to Turing’s prickly persona.   Additionally, history buffs will be delighted by the accurate display of Great Britain during the devastating war, shown with actual footage from the war and cinematic shots of the ravaged city.

The audience is offered perspectives from three different points in Turing’s life: when he was a schoolboy in 1927, when he worked on cracking Enigma in 1939, and when he was investigated by detectives in 1951 after an apparent break-in at his home. It isn’t until the credits roll across the theater screens that viewers will realize the movie was essentially the interrogation of Turing by detective Nock (Rory Kinnear). It is during his interrogation that Turing recounts his experience at Bletchley Park.

Perhaps the most difficult scene to watch, and as a result, the most heart-breaking scene, is the ending scene where Clarke visits Turing in his home in the 1950s. By now, the war has ended and the British government has no further need of his talent; he was sent on his way with the single command of keeping Enigma and its project a secret. The break-in mentioned in the beginning of the movie led to Turing’s conviction of “gross indecency,” and the punishment he chose over prison caused deterioration to his physical and mental state. Cumberbatch depicts the sheer vulnerability behind Turing’s intellect in a chilling scene that will haunt viewers long after they witness it.

It is hard to believe “The Imitation Game” was the debut English movie of the Norwegian film director, but Tyldum did a tremendous job. (His other well-known film, the thriller “Headhunters, is the highest grossing Norwegian-made film of all time.)  His debut received eight nominations in eight different categories at the 87th Academy Awards.

Despite its national release four months ago, “The Imitation Game” is still playing at local Cinemarks. It helped to shed light on the minds behind the Enigma project, especially that of Turing. The message it teaches is a powerful quote repeated multiple times throughout the movie: “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine.”