The Imitation Game serves up a triple dose of disenfranchisement. In dramatizing the British efforts to break Germany’s Enigma code during World War II, the movie centers on genius mathematician Alan Turing, who was ostracized both for his autistic tendencies and his homosexuality. On top of that, the film also considers Joan Clarke, who faced skepticism as the only woman on this code-breaking team. I half expected one of the other members to come down with a motor neuron disease, but that’s already been claimed by The Theory of Everything.
I don’t mean to dismiss the significance of any of these experiences, but rather highlight the doggedness with which the filmmakers attempt to put their story in service of a cause. Yet if The Imitation Game wears its agenda(s) on its sleeve, that doesn’t mean it can’t also work as compelling drama.
Indeed, director Morten Tyldum excels at generating drama. Nearly every moment is infused with Importance. Characters don’t have conversations; they trade quips, aphorisms or statements of one-upmanship. Tyldum and editor William Goldenberg deftly juggle three time frames, each with its own narrative thrust: flashbacks to Turing’s boyhood, where he was bullied for wanting to keep his peas and carrots separate; war-time scenes of Turing and his team trying to crack the Enigma code; and flash-forwards to the end of Turing’s life, which was cut short by England’s brutal anti-homosexuality laws.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing, and if he cranks his performance up to 11 when 8 or 9 would have done the job, he certainly manages to convince us of the man’s piercing intelligence. Keira Knightley brings a period-appropriate spunk to the part of Joan Clarke, while Matthew Goode is his usual charm generator as one of Turing’s colleagues. These are good actors in a handsome production. Add that trifecta of social significance, and The Imitation Game is well positioned to call The Theory of Everything’s bluff on Oscar night.