“It’s the very people that no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” This refrain is repeated constantly throughout the film “The Imitation Game” as we watch Benedict Cumberbatch, ( a 3-time BAFTA nominee), inexorably move towards an Oscar nomination for Best Actor of 2014.
American audiences will know the 38-year-old Cumberbatch best from either his role as Little Charles Aiken, the slightly dim son of Chris Cooper, in “August: Osage County” or from “Star Trek Into Darkness 2.” He also appeared in 2013’s “Twelve Years a Slave,” (Best Picture of 2013). His breakthrough role was as Stephen Hawking in “Hawking” (2004). British audiences have enjoyed him as Sherlock Holmes in “Holmes” (2010) and in a number of television roles.
For me, watching the very British film in Chicago at its Premiere here, it was like watching Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and his buddies from television’s “The Big Bang Theory” try to crack the Nazi codes that will help the British and the Allies win World War II—only without the humor. The extreme intelligence, the arrogance, the emotional state that co-star Keira Knightley refers to as “fragile narcissism” is most analogous to Sheldon from television, even if that role is played for laughs and this one evokes the opposite of laughter.
The movie is based on a book by Andrew Hodges (who helped write the script) called “Allen Turing: The Enigma.” It is the true story of how a half-dozen genius mathematicians, logicians, cryptologists and computer scientist banded together at Bletchley Park in the south of England to figure out how to crack the German Enigma Code.
Every morning at 6 a.m. the Germans sent out a coded message. Unfortunately, the various combinations were 159 million million, which meant that it would take 10 men 20 million years to try to figure out just one missive. And the codes were changed each day; so deciphering one code would not help with the next day’s transmission.
At movie’s end we are told that cracking the code saved 14 million lives and shortened the war by at least 2 years. Alan Turin, however—an odd duck if there ever was one—was offered a choice between incarceration for being homosexual or chemical castration. This was his reward for saving the lives of millions. [It seems fitting that Queen Elizabeth saw fit to pardon him, posthumously, in 2013.]
And it seems quite fortuitous that a film that comes down on the side of gay rights is being released this year, when marriage equality is sweeping the United States. Just as last year’s Best Picture film had a topic that voters could get behind (anti-slavery), so, too, does this one. It seems inevitable that it will be nominated; it is very well done.
Add in the feminist point of view with Keira Knightley as the sole woman brainiac asked to work on the project. When asked why she wants the others on the project to like her by Turing, she says, “I’m a woman in a man’s job and I don’t have the luxury of being an asshole.” Now, you have a double threat in the movie theme department. You can make that a triple threat when you add in the anti-war/anti-violence message (“Humans find violence deeply satisfying.”)
Morton Tyldum directed (“Buddy”, “Headhunters”) a script by Graham Moore and Andrew Hodges (Hodges is also the author of the book on which the film is based).
The film explains that wartime Britain was starving. Although the United States was dropping 100,000 pounds of food daily, the needed foodstuffs were being bombed into oblivion by the German blitz. If the dispatches between the Nazi headquarters and their troops could be decoded, it would be “like having a tap on Hitler’s intercom.” And genius mathematician (but extremely poor team player) Alan Turing, who conceived the concept of an early digital computer (“Christopher”) and built it form scratch, was the man portrayed as almost singlehandedly responsible for the breakthrough the team makes [after a random comment in a bar gives them a fresh insight].
Following their success, in this film from our British friends at Black Bear Productions, the film tells us that the Normandy Invasion, Stalingrad—really, nearly any major battle you can name from WWII—was made “winnable” by knowing the German strategies from decoding their messages beforehand, thanks to the Bletchley Park team that worked to decode Enigma after the device was smuggled out of Berlin by Paris intelligence. (Maybe the filmmakers should also put up a notation that, without the French stealing the machine in the first place, there wouldn’t have been any machine to work on decoding?)
So, as the script puts it, the British needed to “maintain a conspiracy of lies at the highest levels of government.” They managed to do just that and to keep it a secret for 50 years, but the strong warning about more wars was one reason the successful government project was classified as Top Secret for so long. (What if another war broke out and another code-breaking team needed to be assembled?)
The film opens wide on November 21st. Pro feminism, pro tolerance (and anti-homophobia), anti-war. This film and Cumberbatch’s strong performance in it will be top contenders in this year’s Oscar race.