There are plenty of World War II films out there. Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, The Dirty Dozen. The list goes on and on. I’d wager that there are few topics or time periods with more movies made about them than World War II. Now, there are a lot of reasons for this. It was a major world event, one of the most important. There were numerous facets to the war—the Holocaust, the Pacific, Hitler. There would is a lot to document, especially with the true stories. Some of these stories have been documented, like HBO’s series Band of Brothers. But others, like The Imitation Game, reveal a previously un-filmed part of the war.
The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician. Played by the impeccable Benedict Cumberbatch, Turing didn’t land in Normandy, he didn’t push through France and Germany or island hop in the Pacific. He never wielded a firearm throughout the whole course of the war. Rather, Turing worked with a team of linguists, academics, and all around geniuses to try and break the Germany coding machine known as Enigma.
The Nazis used Enigma—what essentially looks like an old fashioned typewriter—to transmit all of their messages. This code was unbreakable. The British army had tried and failed many times to break it without success. Desperate, the army brings in the brilliant but off-putting Alan Turing, and commission him and several other brilliant men and one woman to break Enigma. The team tries and fails, just like the people before them, but while they work to break the code by hand, Turing sets about building a machine that will do it for them—what many consider to be the first computer.
There were a lot of things I liked about this film besides Benedict Cumberbatch (whom I love). The other actors did splendid jobs as well—Keira Knightly as the only woman on the team, Allen Leech as a Soviet spy. The juxtaposition of Kiera Knightly’s character as the only woman and Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing was very well done. It showed how Turing’s personality and Knightly’s status as a woman isolated both characters, and how they could understand and comfort each other because of it. The movie was also paced very well. Even though none of the characters participated in the direct action of the war, the sense of urgency was still there. Mark Strong, during the first meeting with the team, reminds Turing that people are dying every moment that Enigma is not broken, and the film cuts away occasionally to show shots of soldiers fighting the war.
The film shows the struggles of Turing to interact with people, as well as the struggle of the team to break the code. These two sides of the story give the movie depth on a large scale and a personal scale. The Imitation Game tells a grand story of unsung war heroes and their efforts to break the German code, but it also tells the story of Alan Turing, a genius who struggled to live in an interpersonal world, and a world that did not tolerate his sexual orientation. The end of the movie reveals the cause of Turing’s death, suicide after one year of government-mandated hormonal treatment for homosexuality. It’s a tragic end for a man who contributed so much to win the war.
Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch will love this movie. He does a spectacular job in a unique role. Downtown Abbey fans will also love Allen Leech’s appearance, and fans of Keira Knightly period films will be as equally content. World War II buffs will also add this to their DVD pile. It’s a great movie, well done in terms of cinematography, music, and production, and it deserves a place with the great list of World War II films.