Refusal of the Call: Why ‘The Imitation Game’ is Not a Great Movie

Like Benedict Cumberbatch in this picture, there is something keeping 'The Imitation Game' from being the movie it should be.

Full Disclosure: I tried to see The Imitation Game twice this holiday weekend. Both times I walked at least thirty blocks and across the park in the New York cold, and both times, the movie was sold out. Even when I got to the theater at around 2:30 and asked for a ticket for a 4:15 screening, it was sold out. Anyway, third time was the charm, but I went in thinking that my erratic history with trying to see this movie would color my reaction. I thought I would be unnecessarily hard on this movie. Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried. Not even my wildest expectations could have prepared me for my ultimate reaction to the movie.

In case you are not aware, The Imitation Game stars the internet’s boyfriend Benedict Cumberbatch as British mathematician Alan Touring. A man whose genius was instrumental in breaking the Enigma code -used to encrypt all Nazi communications- and help the allies win World War II, but was later trialled and condemned by the very government he worked so hard to save when he was charged for the crime of being a homosexual. I didn’t read reviews of The Imitation Game before I saw it, but I had heard some people complain that the movie wasn’t “gay enough”; in any case, I wasn’t prepared for the particular way in which this movie refuses to be gay.

I guess the only way to sum this up is that the movie doesn’t want anything to do with homosexuality, which is ridiculous, because the story of the socially awkward but genius man who used math to beat the Nazis and basically created modern computers in the process is kind of cool, but the story of the man who did all of that and was later chemically castrated by his very own government is not only fucking great, but infuriatingly urgent and relevant on so many levels; so it’s just puzzling to me that The Imitation Game would want to barely touch on this part of the story, when, it seems to me, Touring’s tragic end is the reason why anyone would make this movie to begin with.

Alas, in its current incarnation, The Imitation Game is made up of three different movies, none of them the one that should have been made. The best of these movies is set during World War II, and deals with Touring and a group of experts working restlessly to break Enigma and win the war. The way Enigma works, every day is a race against the clock to see if our guys can break the code before the clock strikes midnight and the Germans reset the whole thing. Needless to say, this makes for some pretty exciting cinema. It is also pretty fun. Accompanying Cumberbatch in this mission are a very charismatic Keira Knightley and a supremely suave Matthew Goode, both of whom contribute to the movie’s liveliest moments.

The problem with these sequences -good as they are- is that we never get a sense of how Touring’s machine works. I guess the mechanics of such devices can be complicated, but a simple scene like the one where an astronaut folds a paper and explains wormholes to us in Interstellar would have gone a long way. There is even a moment in the movie in which Cumberbatch’s character decides to be more cooperative in which such a scene would have fit perfectly. Case in point, there is a fantastically thrilling sequence in which the characters seem to have finally gotten the clue they needed that was completely undermined by the fact that I was watching them do a bunch of stuff, but didn’t really know what any of it meant.

The second movie is made out of flashbacks detailing Touring’s childhood at a boarding school where he was bullied for being “different”. There, he also met a boy named Christopher, who was kind to him, and was probably his first (unrequited) love. Note that I said probably, because the movie is very much afraid of even hinting at the fact that Touring had sexual desires. He is portrayed as your typical overtly literal and pedantic genius, with Cumberbatch doing a lot of his Sherlock schtick, and without a single ounce of eros to him. At one point, the character reveals that he’s had affairs with men, ad he has been portrayed in such an asexual way that it was almost laughably unbelievable.

The third, and probably worst, of these movies is set in 1951, when a police officer conducts an investigation that ends with Touring being outed as a homosexual. All these scenes feel almost superfluous, as we spend much more time seeing this officer think and talk about how he thinks “Alan Touring is hiding something” instead of getting as much as a glimpse of what Touring’s post-war life was like. What we do get is a measly scene in which Touring is in a bathrobe and can’t stop shaking because of the castrating hormones. Everything else about a situation so miserable that it drove the man to commit suicide at the age of 41 is relegated to some text before the credits.

That is ultimately the problem with The Imitation Game, it is content with telling you the stuff that makes it a relevant story, but has no interest in spending time depicting any of said stuff. Considering the utterly mundane way in which it is directed by a man named Morten Tyldum, it’s almost like it doesn’t even want to be a movie. This could have been an amazing movie, instead, it’s one of the biggest missed opportunities of the year.

Grade: 4 out of 10.

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One comment

  1. smilingldsgirl · January 5, 2016

    I guess I kind of liked that the gayness wasn’t out there and blatant. Not every movie about a gay man has to be a message movie and I kind of liked this was more subtle. It’s not a favorite of mine but I was moved by it. The only thing that bugged me is I guess he wasn’t mousy and awkward at all. Evidently he was gregarious and the life of the party!

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