Friday, October 14, 2016

The Imitation Game

(Morten Tyldum, UK/USA, 2014)
What's to be admired in this film is the craft, the appreciation of watching a fine-tuned machine perform its function without hiccup or fuss.  But that kind of appeal has its limits, and in The Imitation Game they're pretty quickly reached.  Most of the problems comes from the screenplay, as good an example of Blacklist-style schematics as one is likely to find.  What appears to be an intricate nesting of theme, incident, and character is in fact the elaboration of a fairly limp metaphor for Alan Turing's long struggle to fit in - and, while he's at it, become a national hero.  We're once again treated to another imperious but hypersensitive genius, vulnerable enough to be lovable but eccentric enough to remind us of his ineffable difference; the stale cult of the Great Man, humanized through the "enigma" of human drama.

For Turing, human interaction is like an unbreakable code; everybody else seems to have the key but him.  This of course leads at least in part to his self-imposed distance from the other characters - if he can't make them love him, he'll prove that he's the smartest person in the room.  Which of course he is, with the possible exception being Keira Knightley's Joan Clarke, a bright-eyed prodigy of both intelligence and spirit.  Together, and with a modicum of assistance from the MI6 team he leads to crack the German code device, they help to win the war for the Allies.  It's a big story, and mostly true, and that doesn't even include the fact of Turing's homosexuality.  He was viciously persecuted for this by the British government, leading to a sorry end that the film relates but leavens with his triumphs, as well as a late pep talk by Joan, which of course mirrors one that Turing had delivered to her earlier in the film.

Turing's story, with its combination of personal and professional peaks and valleys, must surely have been catnip to the prestige side of Hollywood; it's only surprising that this biopic wasn't made earlier.  But it does disservice to the history of Turing's achievements, which went far beyond code-breaking (he did a great deal of the founding work in the field of what would later be known as computer science, and had major contributions in mathematics and cognitive science - even biology), and it relies to heavily on shorthand methods to reveal his pathos.  There's no real impression of a point of view, either on history, on human knowledge, or on the trials of a wounded, lonesome soul; everything fits easily into the combination of uplift and sober concern which seems to have powered the film from its first iterations as a script.  As such, it's a missed opportunity, and a regrettable one.

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