The Imitation Game approaches Alan Turing in the same manner as the German Enigma code, as a series of equations. Here, he is bits of trivia that when assembled in the right order gives the appearance of a real, complete person. What the film does very well at is presenting the complex mathematics of Enigma and Turing’s machine in a narratively digestible form – I’m reminded of A Beautiful Mind (2001) which did a similar thing. It strikes the right balance between making the code understandable and mysterious.
Cumberbatch puts in a barnstorming performance and the film is probably worth seeing for him alone. Perhaps he is over the top, but generally he keeps the film together and mostly interesting. The problem with The Imitation Game, however, boils down to its saccharine and Oscar-searching style. Every decision is seemingly made by committee and the ‘safest’ one that could’ve been made: CGI war footage, coincidences forms the backbone for any tension, characters are borderline caricatures. Every decision is made in the name of accessibility and as a result, falls flat and is utterly unmemorable.
Reducing Turing down to checklist of items not only does him a disservice, it neutralises any emotional impact in the film: He was an eccentric genius who has trouble conversing ‘normally’ with people (we’ve never seen that before, have we?), he’s gay, and so on. What should be incredible turns into a middling and mundane film, unsure of its own convictions. On occasion, it wildly misses the mark, casually reducing Turing’s suicide to an epilogue, on par with his royal pardon and influence on future mathematicians. Its uplifting ending is meant to reassure us; instead it dismisses the terrible end of Turing’s life as an unfortunate yet uninteresting Easter egg.
The film itself softens the blow of these gruesome events and presents them as something digestible. Despite ostensibly being about how amazing outcasts are – the film’s refrain on this is repeated numerous times – it is certainly for ‘normal’ people who want to watch something about the right man in the right place in the wrong time. The narrative framing (Turing telling his story years later) makes this painfully explicit as it takes tension away from places where they should be.