The Imitation Game (2014)

(minor spoilers if you don’t know anything about the plot or Alan Turing’s life already)

The Imitation Game has all the ingredients for a great movie, but wastes that potential on most levels. It tries to tell too many stories at once and doesn't do justice to any of them. The story is compelling enough to keep the viewer invested, the acting is excellent throughout and Alexandre Desplat's score is great. But almost everything about the script is flawed: structure, focus, explanation of relevant plot details, dramatization of events, accuracy and in a few instances dialogue. It takes too many shortcuts when it should get into detail and it overdramatizes when there is no need to. After seeing the movie, I don't find it surprising that it isn't accurate. It's not a bad movie at all, but one that gets worse the more you think about it.

The story has two aspects that are still relevant today and it's especially frustrating that those aspects are handled so poorly. One point of criticism is the supposed exaggeration of Joan Clarke’s (Keira Knightley, the highlight of the movie) role in the story. I have no problem ignoring that inaccuracy because it offers us a strong female character that is independent, self-confident, funny and emotional, which is really rare. The movie could obviously make a point of showing that a woman like her was not necessarily accepted by 1940s society (or today), but like everything else in the movie, it picks one scene to make that point clear and then checks it off its list. It is the scene where we meet Joan for the first time. She enters a contest Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch, pretty good but too often like his Sherlock character) starts to find intelligent people working on the Enigma project. Joan is the only woman among 30 or so men, which makes it obvious already. But then one supervisor of the contest so aggressively makes it clear that he thinks women could not be able to solve a complicated puzzle and can only work as secretaries that it’s just dumb. When you reach the point of shouting at the screen “We get it! They underestimate women! Just stop already,” the scene goes on for some more sexist dialogue, thereby shooting itself in the foot. It’s strange, but that scene almost disqualifies any point the movie actually tries to make about feminism because it doesn’t seem to have any clue about it. It doesn’t help that this issue is never really addressed again in the movie, as if that one guy is enough to represent the chauvinism of the past.

The movie treats Turing’s homosexuality in a similar fashion that is not helpful to anyone. Turing’s homosexuality is implied often and made explicit about halfway through the movie by another character. Around the same time, it is also mentioned in the awkward framing device the movie uses to tell its story, in the form of a police officer trying to find out what Turing’s secret is. Here the role of the sexist supervisor is filled by a police chief who finds Turing’s homosexuality “disgusting!” And again, that’s it for anyone expressing any negative feeling about homosexuality at the time, ticked that box. The final subtitles tell us about his suicide (if it was one), how many homosexuals were convicted and so on, making it seem that the movie was about that issue. But The Imitation Game couldn’t be more coy about its protagonist’s sexuality. Again, there are some implications made but we never see Turing actively seeking out sex or being with a man or anything. Just like with anything else (breaking the codes, building the machine, writing a letter to Churchill, etc.), the movie takes a shortcut where the long road would have been more effective. What a missed opportunity for such a tragic and important story. Turing’s life could have been told somewhat truthfully and thereby could have made some points about our society, how it deals with sexuality and women, but instead it settles for melodrama and an awkwardly structured aphorism that is repeated too often and too broad to have any impact.