"The Imitation Game" Cracks the Biopic Code


Josh Axelrod

Some might say The Theory of Everything lacks substance. Others might declare Foxcatcher limited in its portrayal of its protagonist’s psyche. And hopefully, all who are subjected to the unpleasant viewing experience of Unbroken will recognize its true nature as the uninspired detritus that it is. But, despite a fear of labeling any movie perfect, The Imitation Game seems to earn its place in the biopic canon as 2014’s nearly-flawless entrant.
There is simply not a single category in which this biographical film falls short. The Imitation Game tells the riveting story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician who cracked the Nazis’ Enigma code used for sending messages and was able to save millions of lives through his valiant and unprecedented efforts. Turing was also a closeted homosexual which violated British laws of indecency at the time. This film properly salutes a genius who shortened World War II by over two years and fathered the sciences of computers and artificial intelligence.
I seriously cannot find fault with The Imitation Game. The writing is sharp, the directing polished, the acting superb, and the editing crisp. At risk of entering idol-worshipping territory, I think this movie lends itself more to an analysis of its biographical genre, than a standard review.
Why does The Imitation Game succeed so seamlessly? The secret is in its subject matter. As previously mentioned, The Theory of Everything was criticized by some who thought it lacked substance, the arena where biopics often get bogged down; where were the science and accomplishments that drove Stephen Hawking’s notable life? I found it to be a happy mixture of romance and history, but others disagreed. The truth is that Hawking’s lovely romantic story and his extensive scientific career would not mesh smoothly in one comprehensive movie. Anthony McCarten, The Theory of Everything’s screenwriter, chose to focus on the more widely appealing romantic aspect, a decision I stand by. But The Imitation Game is able to have it all; it captures Turing’s scientific breakthroughs, his personal life and loves, his backstory, and his stubborn personality.
The secret to the seemingly anomalous progression of events lies in the richness of Turing’s story. Every aspect of his life flows effortlessly into the next. There’s a powerful moment in the film where the viewer realizes the cryptologist could not dedicate his unbridled passion to loving another man due to homophobic laws in England so he funnelled his adoration and drive into the study of machines and science. Turing’s struggle with homosexuality provides the key to his professional career, his resonant backstory of a schoolboy love, and his curious personal life. Graham Moore will rightfully win an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in recognition of his beautiful weaving of character and plot come February 22.

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch): “You will never understand the importance of what I am creating here!”

All of this would not be possible without Benedict Cumberbatch’s masterful performance. This Brit on the rise delivers a wonderful performance that is deeply contemplative and expressive while maintaining restraint. Cumberbatch settles deep into the personality of Turing and makes it his own.
In a review of The Theory of Everything I designated two important rules for the realization of a good biopic. First, find an excellent lead actor (check!) and secondly, hone in one specific area of the subject’s life to avoid a barrage of events and loss of emotional center. The Imitation Game shatters that second rule by presenting a sweeping yet well-trimmed portrayal of Alan Turing’s life; the reason for this allowance is the rich diversity of topics and themes Turing’s celebrated existence gave us. Is it selfish to highlight the savoriness of a hero’s life and conflicts primarily for the fodder it provides to great cinematic expression? Maybe, but who can complain when the movie is this good?
Rarely does a film come along that so excellently prospers in every classification and department. I am sure that filmmakers will be playing an imitation game for years to come in an attempt to replicate the triumph of this marvelous movie.