17 December 2014
The Imitation Game is well acted, well directed and interesting. It tells the fascinating story of Alan Turing, brilliant code breaker autistic, as he cracks the Nazis unbreakable code and ends (SPOILER ALERT) with his suicide.
It’s also kind of boring.
When I watched J.Edgar a few years and noticed how by the numbers and unengaging it was, I noted that a part of me was happy htat we’d reached the point where biopics of gay people didn’t have to be moving, inspiring indie films – they could be middling Oscar bait. The Imitation Game isn’t middling Oscar bait, but it is definitely Oscar bait, adhering strictly to a biopic formula when a more daring script and plot structure might have worked better.
Which is to take nothing away from Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance, which is astounding. It’s not very subtle, but one doesn’t get the impression that either Turing himself or the movie about his life was really going for subtlety. Cumberbatch manages to make a second iconic antisocial genius feel completely different from the OTHER iconic antisocial genius he has made so famous. It’s also a vanity-free performance, feeling more like the work of a character actor than an exploding Hollywood leading man.
But I kept coming back to the idea that this movie could have been different – could have been made by an auteur style director who would have made the movie feel as clever and intriguing as Turing himself. On whole, though, The Imitation Game hews closely to the rules for a famous person movie.
With the exception of that downer ending, of course, and the fact that the movie refuses to just see Turing’s story as our triumph over Nazis. Although the movie doesn’t hit this parallel too hard, there’s some jarring about overcoming fascism only to impose facism directly into Turing’s skull. For those unfamiliar, less than ten years after Turing broke the unbreakable German code, he was found guilty of homosexuality, and chose chemical castration over prison time (he wouldn’t be able to work in prison). A year later, Turing committed suicide. That’s a hell of a burden to put on a tale of British triumph, and it’s the bravest choice that the movie makes to really sell the tragedy of it.
Still, I come back to the idea that I’m excited, culturally, that we’ve reached this point. In 2001, Hollywood filmmakers decided to make a movie about John Nash, brilliant mathematician, scitzophrenic and part-time homosexual. The movie never even mentioned it, despite the fact that Nash was stripped of his government clearance due to his homosexual affairs. Now, 13 years later, it’s not only mentioned – it’s a major character point, but not in a way that “otherizes” Turing. He’s an other because he’s a genius, because he’s autistic, because he was part of history – his homosexuality is what makes him relateable. That’s awesome.
So come for the cultural moment, stay for Cumberbatch’s performance, but don’t expect much more from it.