The 87th annual Academy Awards, or The Oscars as it has been coined since 2013, broadcasts just hours from now. Many say this year’s line-up of nominees have all but secured the winners for the main categories. For Best Picture, initially buzz suggested BOYHOOD will be the clear winner. Based on ticket sales some main streamers are vying for AMERICAN SNIPER. But most recently BIRDMAN seems to be the favored choice. I’d prefer to discuss a Best Picture nominee that isn’t getting as much hoopla as its contenders, yet I believe it deserves a closer look.
To be so profoundly moved by a film and yet trepidatious to scribe a review may sound bizarre. But that’s exactly what I faced after screening Morten Tyldum’s THE IMITATION GAME (2014). The reason is simple. I didn’t want to spoil what I experienced for fellow film goers by giving away key points. And yet my desire to express my thoughts on this wondrous film is too strong to keep all to myself. So, here we go.
[WARNING: If you have not seen THE IMITATION GAME, read no further. Instead, go to your local participating movie house and see this film. ASAP. Then come back here and continue reading. All others may proceed…]
THE IMITATION GAME (2014) is the true story of Alan Turing (portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch), not your ordinary run-of-the-mill, socially-challenged, genius code-breaker. It’s WW2 in England. Hitler and his evil forces are hammering hard and have the upper hand thanks to an ingenuis machine built to incript coded messages, aptly named ‘Enigma’.
So her majesty’s top military enlists a team of brilliant code-breakers of various strengths and dysfunctions. One of the teammates, Keira Knightly as Joan Clarke, has to be ‘snuck in’ under the guise as part of the secretarial pool because of the sexist code of the times. How on earth could an attractive young woman who is so brilliant that she beats the instructor’s record be seen using her brain to fight Hitler with a bunch of men when it’s her job to get married and birth babies, right? As for Turing, his introduction is reminiscent of Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock” character in his offensively socially unaware Aspbergers ways and equally brilliant. If he wasn’t so brilliant and so desperately needed, he would have been fired before he was hired by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance). The team soon discovers Turing doesn’t ‘play well with others’ and he ostracizes himself immediately.
With an obsessive determination, Turing stays on task and the others eventually realize the genuis of his quirky methods. But the process to counter the Enigma with the ultimate code-breaking machine (the precursor to the first computer) of his own making takes time. During these years, obstacles present themselves.
In these sexist times, Clarke feels pressure from her family to fit the female stereotype so Turing agrees to an engagement so her family doesn’t deem her an old maid and she can continue working on the project. Clarke and Turing work well together and respect each other but there’s no love chemistry- he agrees to the arrangement as a matter of necessity and convenience. Meanwhile, a spy is suspected and later discovered to be in their midst. When Turing discovers the traitor, he is forced to keep it secret as British Intelligence follow the Soviet spy’s work. And throughout the entire project, Turing gets constant pressure from Commander Denniston threatening to shut him down and he eventually succeeds.
But not before Turing’s wonder machine ultimately works, just in the knick of time. And to keep the Nazis from upsetting our Allies’ tracking, this team must keep it all very secret; even after the war’s end, including destroying all evidence of its existence and never taking credit.
As if this journey was not a fascinating enough peek into landmark events of our past, the rest of the film reveals an ugly side of history that many before this film were unaware. When I asked my more tech-savvy friends, they had already heard of Turing’s contributions to computer science, but not of the details of the extensive obstacles and secrets Turing endured but more specifically not of the injustices he faced regarding his homosexuality.
The ‘spoiler’ here that many like myself did not see coming was that Alan Turing, shortly after creating an intregal force in stopping Hitler, was forced to take chemical castration as punishment for his sexuality in order to continue his work. His code-breaking machine was named after his secret boyhood crush that was a sad tale in itself. And while his friend and collegaue Joan Clarke attempted to help create a cover via a marriage of convenience, he needed to be himself.
The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 was the legal step finally taken to decriminalize homosexuality in the United Kingdom. A legal righting of a grave wrong that sadly came too late. At the end of the film, after facing public shame of facing criminal charges for his homosexuality, after enduring years of extraordinary work with no credit, after enduring the hormonal effects of being a man placed on estrogen therapy, after years of keeping such deep war secrets of espionage that even his own team members were unaware, Turing ended his own life in 1954.
This story is both heart-breaking and inspiring. What’s most fascinating about this biopic is that here is a man who was critically responsible for ending the European campaign in WWII and likely saving millions of lives, yet I had never heard of him in that context. And what’s worse is this man of such profound significance to our world, was stopped short of reaching even greater contributions simply due to bigotry.
It’s the realization of that which opened the flood gates for me. As the credits rolled and the tears trickled down my cheeks, I wondered if he felt all alone. That perhaps his only true moment of feeling love and appreciation was in that boyhood friendship that yearned for more, or perhaps via his own obsessive tinkering- unfortunately both cases being essentially unrequited. A film that tells such a thought-provoking story and invokes such emotions, is certainly Oscar worthy.
This post was written as a contribution to the 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON month-long celebration in coordination with TCM, hosted by Aurora of ONCE UPON A SCREEN, Paula of PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB, and Kellee of OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED. Check out all four weeks of informative and enlightening posts: ACTORS, SNUBS, CRAFTS, PICTURES/DIRECTORS.