One wonders how a far right conservative would feel when told that the computer—so integral a part of our everyday lives—was invented not by some straight American like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs but by a gay Brit.
Alan Turing is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and inventor of the Turing Machine, the first model of a computer. The Imitation Game, nominated for eight Academy Awards this year, focuses on a brief chapter in Turing’s life during the Second World War when he worked on breaking the Enigma code that eventually led the Allies to defeat the Nazis. The best line in the film sums up who he was and what he accomplished: “Sometimes it is the people that no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one imagines.”
It’s a shame that the film itself doesn’t accomplish anything that no one could have imagined. The film’s plot is framed in the context of a police investigation that Turing suffered after his arrest for homosexual acts, when such behavior was still criminalized in the U.K. This framing device doesn’t work, unnecessarily distracting from the central story.
The film also relies heavily on the predictable depiction of geniuses as socially inept, tortured souls that implies their tragic end was somehow inevitable. We have seen this in films about scientists (Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind), politicians (Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar), and countless ones about artists (Ed Harris’ Pollock, as just one example), all of which, incidentally, were adapted screenplays—like that of The Imitation Game – operating on a tried and tested, but entirely tedious, color-by-numbers formula.
So, it’s up to Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing to lift the movie out of this rut. He delivers a standout performance but is it great acting or is it just that all the other characters around him are one dimensional cutouts and the poor actors in those roles have nowhere much to go in terms of an emotional or character arc? On the other hand, his scenes with Keira Knightley—as Joan Clarke, a fellow mathematician and the only female in this code-breaking operation—sparkle with kinetic energy, including one of the best coming-out scenes in recent films.
But the film’s most powerful punch is in the graceful and evocative flashbacks to Turing’s boyhood crush on Christopher Morcom. The true star here is British actor Alex Lawther as the young Turing. Where is his nomination?