Film Review: The Imitation Game

by Mark Woodhouse

Rated M. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley. Directed by Morten Tyldum.

If making a great movie is an enigma, have the makers of The Imitation Game cracked the code?

This film is based on the life of Alan Turing, the man instrumental in cracking the Nazi ‘Enigma’ code in WW2. The film weaves together three complementary storylines from three different periods in his life, focusing on his time at the Bletchley Park code-cracking facility during the war. The war ends the same way as you’d expect, but this is really a much more personal story than your typical war film.

The character of Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) is such an interesting, amusing and complex one to watch. He’s hyper-intelligent, with a remarkable capacity for logical thought (he can do things we can’t). But he’s also completely socially unaware, missing the simplest of social cues and subtext (he can’t do things we can). This is shown in quite amusing conversations, and in quite forceful face-to-face confrontations, and none of his relationships are uncomplicated, none of them easy.

One of the biggest difficulties he faces is his homosexuality. He lives in a world where homosexuality is illegal and unacceptable, and where it’s discovery could jeopardise his career. This stress is quite taxing and formative for Turing, and is a theme explored much more in the time periods before and after the war.

I found this film very engaging – I felt the emotions along with the characters (the frustration of Turing when his work is poorly-regarded, the frustration of his colleagues when he treats them poorly, the desperation of the situation, the joy and excitement of actually cracking the enigma code, the devastation of the personal cost). All of the characters evoked some sort of response.

Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Alan Turing. I believed every moment of his arrogance and his pain, his obliviousness and his genius. As Turing, he is the centre of the film, and it needed this strong performance. 

What stops this good film from being great is it’s over-explanation of what’s going on. At times, it spells everything out painfully clearly, when at other moments it does so well at simply showing us. It doesn’t do it all the time, but it does do it at some key moments. There’s a phrase that pops up a few times as well that might be a warm and fuzzy thing to say once, but is eye-rollingly bad by the end.

There’s an interesting moral question that arises once the code is broken – the characters realise the power they have over life and death, and one of them quips that they’re more powerful now than God. They essentially decide, sometimes in a very heartbreaking way, who lives and dies.

I’m thankful that, despite what these characters think, God is not removed from this world. That, despite what these characters think, God is not unable nor unwilling to act in this world. He assures us that he acts for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28), though to us the ‘good’ is often hard to discern or hard to swallow.

But with God, there is no code to crack. He has shown in Jesus that he cares about this world, that he acts in this world, and that he is for us.

The Imitation Game is a good and enjoyable film. It’s just a little too over-explained to be great. Four stars.

The Imitation Game will be released in Australia on January 1. It is currently screening in the US and the UK.

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