The Imitation Game (USA, 2014)

imitation_gameDirected by: Morten Tyldum. More Oscar films, why not? Again, like Interstellar, this one had so much hype I figured there was a ceiling on how interesting it could actually be. And also, knowing the bare basics of Alan Turing’s story, and knowing what I know about Hollywood, it seemed like a movie about what a great noble figure this guy was, where the truly interesting part of the story to me was the story of how even in something as drastic and straightforward as WWII, being a war hero, ra-ra postwar patriotism, that in the end, homophobia trumped patriotism, and he was only very very recently posthumously pardoned and officially honoured for his contribution to the war effort. But, of course, the story that I just zipped through has very little to do with the actual guy Alan Turing, and more to do with large forces, generations of prejudice, a whole tangle of higher government officials and disconnected agencies cross-talking and at the end of it, this one poor guy is stuck between a rock and a hard place and takes his own life because of the injustices and the inadequacies of his society, all of which is tremendously difficult to put on screen, and even more difficult when you want to try to cram it all into the extremely narrow confines of a Hollywood blockbuster Oscar-bait fluff picture. The great man theory works in historical films and biopics infinitely easier for that framework—one person, endowed with greatness, has to struggle against the inadequacy of the institutions and people around him who can’t see that he’s ahead of his time, because they are very much stuck in their own time, but eventually his inherent greatness triumphs over all. In this case, it’s a tragedy because his greatness alone isn’t enough to overcome the un-greatness of his contemporary society, but that tragic aspect is kind of tacked on at the end. Sure, the final sequence with the policeman in the interrogation room are interspersed throughout the narrative (with an interesting inversion of the usual device where the past is usually in drab colours and the present/future is in bright colours), but that part of the plot is almost a different movie from the main narrative at Bletchley Park, which has to do with cracking codes, winning over colleagues, women’s equality, espionage against the Soviets, and is already balanced between a lot of dominant personalities, from Keira Knightley to Matthew Goode (not Matthew Good) to Charles Dance (formerly of Game of Thrones) to Mark Strong, not to mention Benny Cumby himself. I guess it just feels like the film answers in its own mind, and takes for granted their answer, the most compelling question that motivates the period—why did homophobia trump patriotism in the case of Alan Turing? Why was his secret allowed to topple his career when other prominent “establishment” figures (including no less prominent a figure than J. Edgar Hoover!) of the time undoubtedly continued on in secret, doing their good works (which were likely a lot less valuable than Turing’s work)? The film answers that question from the outset, with the benefit of Hollywood convention, so you don’t have to work it out for yourself—because he was ahead of his time and everyone in the past was an idiot, way less smart and civilized than us perfect geniuses in the present, and Alan Turing was just so brilliant and modern that the barbaric 20th century couldn’t handle how awesome he was, what a tragedy, the end. That being said, this film was quite well done, the acting all superb, Cumberbatch really showing us what he’s got, Keira really giving a spark of energy into the female lead so that she almost takes over the focus of every scene she’s in, and Matthew Goode proving he’s more than equal to the task of playing the “straight man” to Cumberbatch’s odd duck genius. There’s a great mix of characters here, and their dynamic comes off as believable and essential to the success of the drama. But it’s still not a great movie, there’s so much time they spend on stock Oscar bait fluff, and so much juicy stuff they ignore. I just remembered, the enigmatic opening monologue (and the damn title itself) hints that the film will be grappling with some of Turing’s actual theories, some of the really interesting stuff, the Turing test, the question of artificial intelligence, philosophy of AI, etc, but again, this film has too much at stake in just being a standard Hollywood biopic to waste time with all of that “interesting stuff.” Then again, it’s definitely silly to hate a Hollywood film for being a Hollywood film, and this one is perfectly respectable. But I think that by using that title, and by beginning with that enigmatic monologue, they’re barking up the wrong tree, disingenuously drawing the viewer into something that’s claiming to be smarter than it actually is. If they’d have just called it TURING or something stupid, that would have been way more accurate. I haven’t read the book, but I’m gonna guess that most of the Hollywood suits who conceived and financed this film never read it either—it’s huge and it’s got more mathematical formulae in it than human drama I assume. Anyway, go see it if you want. In the meantime, I’ve definitely got Cumby’s Julian Assange movie on my list.

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One response to “The Imitation Game (USA, 2014)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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