The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Imitation Game

The life story of Alan Turing has inspired books, documentaries, a choral composition, and even a musical written and staged by the Pet Shop Boys. His work quite literally changed the world in a number of different ways. If you're reading this review on a computer, for example, you owe a debt of gratitude to the late Mr. Turing. A noted mathematician, he was responsible for building a machine that cracked the Nazi Engima code, thought to be unbreakable, during WWII. The Imitation Game recounts that experience, celebrating Turing's accomplishments while also taking a long, hard look at the nature of keeping secrets.

The film begins with World War II in full swing and Hitler making terrifying advances. Germany has a device called an “Enigma machine” that sends out messages and directives in complex code. The British government and spy agency MI6 interview a number of experts in various fields, hoping to assemble a team that can break it. Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is one of them. A deeply eccentric man, he immediately clashes with his teammates. But he also seems to have a knack for how to accomplish the mission. Believing that machines have their own way of thinking, he sets out to build one that will make sense of the Enigma code. Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, a young woman with a skill for solving puzzles; Turing brings her on to help. As months drag on, he struggles to get his machine operational, while the folks in charge, Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) and MI6's Major General Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), wait impatiently, knowing that soldiers are dying with every passing day.

The Imitation Game is a lively, exciting beat-the-clock thriller that shows the hurdles Turing faces. Inability to get along with others, technical malfunctions, a government that didn't always understand what he was doing – all these things and more make an already difficult challenge that much harder. One of the most pleasurable aspects of the film is that it avoids stodginess in telling the story. While it pays deep respect to the accomplishment Turing achieved – and builds a strong feeling of mounting suspense - there are many moments of humor, and the dialogue between characters is frequently sharp and witty. The approach ensures that The Imitation Game holds your investment for every second, as you wait to see how each challenge will be met.

There's another level to the story, though. Turing is gay, in a time when homosexuals in England were imprisoned on “indecency” charges. His ability to keep his sexuality secret pays off when put in charge of a mission that requires great secrecy. At the same time, it poses a threat later on, when someone places him in a compromising position. If his superiors find out he's gay, he'll immediately lose his ability to work on the mission, which could mean the code never gets figured out. The Imitation Game delves into the idea of both personal and national secrecy, specifically the costs and gains of it. The movie asks: When, if ever, is the right time to reveal a secret? Do you do it at the first advantageous moment or wait for maximum gain? And what repercussions are worth the revelation? The movie continually challenges you with these conundrums.

Benedict Cumberbatch is outstanding as Turing, convincingly creating a character who is socially awkward and immensely focused. Of course, the term Asperger's Syndrome wasn't in use back then, but the man we see here is certainly portrayed with that disorder. Cumberbatch makes it all feel authentic, so that we believe in his ability to make his machine work while also understanding how frustrating he is to the not-quite-understanding people around him. Keira Knightley gives her second solid performance of the year (following Begin Again) as the woman who initially fears the point of the mission, then comes to vehemently defend it.

Directed by Morten Tyldum (Headhunters), The Imitation Game works as both a provocative piece of drama and as thrilling entertainment. It takes an already fascinating story and tells it in a way that engages your emotion just as much as your intellect. That seems appropriate to Alan Turing's legacy.

( out of four)

The Imitation Game is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.