It is sometimes tough to discern between biopics when it comes around Oscar season. It is the same deal with two of the entries from this year: The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. While the first biopics delivered two award worthy performances by leads Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, the latter delivers equally deserving performances by leads Benedict Cumberbatch, but also dives into a story that works as a parable to current events.
The Imitation Game follows Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) as he tries to crack the enigma code set by the Germans in World War II with help from fellow mathematicians (which includes Matthew Goode and Keira Knightley). The code allowed Germans to communicate during the war and by deciphering it, allowed the Allies to pick up on troop movements and gain an upper hand.
Cumberbatch plays Turing well, but the hurdle to get over for his character is the fact that he is yet another awkward genius who doesn’t play well with others, a role that Cumberbatch has become a staple with due to his previous work in Sherlock. But Turing isn’t Sherlock Holmes and it becomes apparent after about thirty minutes that the actor is able to create a distance between Turing and Holmes in order to bring the audience with knowledge of his previous work into this film instead of basing him on his other roles.
But what works so well with The Imitation Game is the, at times, subtle parable on human rights, gay rights, and holding the power of God in one’s hands. While the third may not be something we deal with each day, the film is able to minimize it into the context of a homosexual individual in early to mid 1900s England. Turing, who was gay, never outwardly broadcasts it, but like the characters in the film, clues are left for the audience to deduce about the man.
Instead of standing up and making a statement, The Imitation Game is more interested in covering the story at hand while paralleling it to the fight between Turing over his sexuality that would eventually lead to his suicide at age 41. This lesson hits home due to the choices that Turing makes during the war (which includes picking strategic places to fight which sometimes means leaving people to die) and the choices made by the English government to put him on medication in order to try to “cure” his homosexuality, but instead pushed him to death.
It was nice to see the biopic use a deft hand (and the use of flashbacks to a childhood affection) to show who Turing was without beating the audience over the head with the lesson at hand. Instead, it did a solid job of portraying the man and giving his story, but also being able to subtly tie-in with the fight for human rights that still rages on in modern society. While it isn’t the same as what Turing dealt with at that time, it works as a reminder of how far we have come and a reflection on where we still need to go.
Overall, The Imitation Game never re-invents the wheel (ironic since Turing invented such a powerful machine), but is a satisfying look into the life of a man that I personally wasn’t as well acquainted with. It also took the opportunity to give a short parable on human rights that works well as a small reminder on the treatment of other people. Cumberbatch soars in a role that is at times much like the stuff that makes him famous, but also breaks him from these chains and shows that the actor has impeccable range and talent.
It isn’t a massive codebreaker, but The Imitation Game is a gentle reminder of the power of film to share a lesson, even if it is small.