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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Film Review: THE IMITATION GAME, (2014) DIR. MORTEN TYLDUM

Film Review: THE IMITATION GAME, (2014) DIR. MORTEN TYLDUM

 Image Above: A Poster for The Imitation Game. (Image from official site)

The brief and fascinating story of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician, who arguably turned the tide of WWII in favor of the Allies, is a story that needed to be told on many levels. It is a tragic human story in a context of great historical interest as well as great scientific importance. Based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, with a screenplay by Graham Moore we are taken into the environment of Bletchley Park, Britain’s most top secret facility where the brightest and best civilian cryptographers, linguists, and mathemeticians were commandeered into working on decoding German messages. Bletchley Park was more like a university campus where all of the inhabitants were sworn to absolute secrecy. Fifty miles from London in the countryside it was rumored to be a radio factory behind the tightly guarded front gates.

The war was going badly for the Allies on account of the Enigma device which the Germans had designed which allowed them to intercept telecommunications from the Allies and anticipate and sabotage military tactics on a large scale. One of the most urgent endeavors at Bletchley was decoding the Enigma device in order that the Allies could know what the Axis powers were planning and to stop the Allies plans from being obtained by the Germans.

Recruited by British Secret Service, Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) a Cambridge-educated math genius so inept socially that today he would probably be considered on the autism spectrum, yet so adept at mathematical and technical theories that he quickly took over his department and secured the direct support of Winston Churchill to fund the massive decoding device which he built. The pressure from the military officers overseeing this group for results was intense. The claustrophobia, frustration, frayed nerves and competitiveness among the most gifted cerebral geeks who were sequestered far from family, friends and their normal lives and who were sworn to secrecy about their activities for the next 30 years is hard to imagine.

The insular setting of Bletchley Park is dramatically contrasted with the horrors of WWII with vintage newsreel footage of military operations, civilian terror, and scenes of terrible destruction and devastation. In the way that Argo sustained suspense throughout even though we knew how it ended is accomplished beautifully in this film. That it is a British production is what I think is great about it. It feels like a BBC production for Masterpiece Theatre. It has fantastic production values, understated acting and no intrusive musical score. Keira Knightly plays Joan Clarke , the only woman on the team, as a down-to-earth team player with above average charm which she uses to humanize the awkward Turing and help bridge the gap between him and his colleagues. Benedict Cumberbatch was born for this role and inhabits it with seeming effortlessness. It is a typical role for him - not unlike Sherlock Holmes - a brilliant, cerebral, unemotional antisocial loner. Only here, we get to see him suggest deeply repressed emotions which he does with sublime subtlety.

Adding to what is already a fascinating look into a little-known part of WWII history is the personal story of Alan Turing which also reflects the social history of the times. As a homosexual in mid-century Britain, you acted on your preferences at your peril. It was a jailable offense and one that ultimately led to the early demise of Alan Turing who was posthumously pardoned in 2013. The tragedy is that, on account of the secrecy of the project, a man who should have been appreciated a a national hero was destroyed for his sexual orientation, an unimaginable injustice today. At least this film is righting that wrong and acknowledging the valuable contibution of this extraordinary human whose early writings and work prefigured the computer which we all take for granted.

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THE IMITATION GAME - Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Allen Leech (Image from official site)

By Belle McIntyre

Rashaad Newsome: L. gends, S. tatements, S. tars at Marlborough gallery

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