“The Imitation Game” (2014). Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Alex Lawther, Jack Bannon, Tuppence Middleton. Director: Morten Tyldum. Screenplay: Graham Moore. Book: Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: The Enigma. Web site. Trailer.
Much of the time, our lives seem puzzlingly inscrutable. But they need not be if we look closely to see how they follow very clearly prescribed paths that fall in line with what we think, believe and feel. Should we become proficient at that, there’s virtually nothing we can’t come to understand, a point driven home in the engaging new biopic, “The Imitation Game.”
In the early days of World War II, England and its Allies were suffering heavy losses at the hands of Hitler’s war machine. British military intelligence had considerable difficulty getting sufficient information about the Germans’ battle plans in time to prevent the carnage. Enemy forces fared so well thanks to their ability to successfully convey encrypted messages to their troops using a coding system known as Enigma, believed to be unbreakable. But, if the British were somehow able to decipher the code, the game would change entirely.
To reach this goal, the royal military began interviewing the country’s leading mathematicians, cryptologists and linguists for participation in a top-secret project aimed at cracking the code. Heading the project was naval Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Denniston), a hard-nosed, results-oriented taskmaster, who was quietly and clandestinely aided by Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), an officer of the supposedly nonexistent military intelligence ministry, MI6.
One of the more prominent candidates Denniston interviewed was mathematics scholar Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch). Despite Turing’s impressive résumé, the commander found this contender to be arrogant and aloof. However, given the need to get the job done, Denniston brought Turing on board his team – but with great reservation and with one eye always looking over Alan’s shoulder.
Unlike the team’s other members (Matthew Goode, Matthew Beard, Allen Leech), who approached breaking the code by more conventional deciphering methods, Turing proposed something radically different – a machine capable of simultaneously processing multiple calculations aimed at cracking Enigma’s unfathomable algorithm. Yet, despite Alan’s unshakable faith in his idea, others scoffed at him, offering virtually no support (especially since his condescending attitude often rubbed them the wrong way). Even Denniston was able to overlook his results-driven focus when it came to Turing’s outlandish proposal, especially since it verged on what he considered to be the height of fiscal irresponsibility (wartime budget considerations notwithstanding). So, if Alan were to realize his goal, he would have to seek the assistance of a higher power – which he did by writing to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a move that earned him the support he needed, as well as the leadership of the code breaking team.
Turing thus began work on creating his calculating machine. He also found a staunch ally in the team’s newest member, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who shared Alan’s love of numbers and understood him in a way that the other team members didn’t. But progress came slowly, and rumors of a Communist spy lurking in the team’s midst cast a pall over the code breakers’ work. Denniston’s suspicions about the trustworthiness of his team leader thus grew, a circumstance that made life increasingly difficult for him, especially since he was struggling to keep a secret of his own – his homosexuality, which, at the time in England, was still punishable as a crime.
It was under these extremely trying conditions that Alan toiled to carry out his task. Would his creation function as hoped for, or would it wind up a disappointing failure? Would he be able to continue hiding the truth about himself, or would he be exposed? But, perhaps most importantly, would he ultimately succeed at breaking Enigma? And, even if he did, then what? As the prospects of a breakthrough loomed, the answers once sought so earnestly suddenly didn’t seem quite so clear-cut. In fact, the hope that success once promised now seemed to have raised a whole host of new questions, considerations of a nature far more complicated than anything Turing had faced up to that point – and that would continue to dog him for years to come, even after the war ended.
Turing’s complex circumstances aptly illustrate how our lives and our realities truly are metaphorical in nature, reflective of the prevailing beliefs within our true being. Their expression in physical terms is thus a direct outcome of the manifesting intents we employ through the conscious creation process. For instance, as the film’s trailer observes, it takes one who keeps secrets to know how to reveal them, and that’s certainly true in Alan’s case. However, secrets can also ensnare, another circumstance that Mr. Turing comes to know all too well, especially in the years after the war, when he unwittingly runs afoul of an investigation headed up by Manchester Police Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear).
The beliefs we employ to create our realities are often remarkably persistent, too, as seen in flashbacks to when a 15-year-old Alan (Alex Lawther) was a boarding school student. These intents are born, develop and flourish over time, manifesting in myriad permutations through the years. This becomes most apparent in Alan’s fascination with puzzles and codes, an interest he shares with his classmate, Christopher (Jack Bannon). He comes to recognize, for instance, how we often employ encryption methods in our daily lives without even being aware of doing so. The statements we make, he notes, often don’t say what we really mean, prompting him to speculate that the trick to understanding what others truly say depends on our ability to break through those codes, seeing past the surface attributes and examining the genuine qualities that lie beneath. Indeed, one could argue, what better mindset is there for developing the means for fathoming how to break codes?
The persistence of our beliefs can sometimes get us in trouble, though, too. For example, it’s truly sad that we can allow the beliefs driving our prejudices to hold on so stubbornly. England’s entrenched bigotry toward homosexuals, for instance, was so pervasive at the time that it kept many from being able to recognize the accomplishments of those holding to that sexual orientation. No matter what grand achievements someone might have been able to fulfill, those efforts were often summarily wiped out when subjected to the onslaught of an inflexible prejudice.
This is unfortunate, since those whose realities operate outside the mainstream frequently inspire some of our most enlightened creations and ideas. Alan’s conception of a calculating device led to the development of what would come to be called “Turing machines” – or what we better know today as computers. Where would we be now if such outlandish thinking had not taken root? It’s regrettable that Alan never received the recognition he deserved, either (and all because of an aspect of his life that was really no one else’s business but his).
So how do we extricate ourselves from such circumstances? As alluded to above, discernment is key, for it teaches us how to read between the lines to be able to truly see and hear what others do and say. This allows us to look past mere surface perceptions to fathom the underlying beliefs manifesting the prevailing circumstances, enabling us to adjust our beliefs and intents in response. This also enables us to better develop the power of our intuition, a key element in forming the beliefs we employ through the conscious creation process.
Integrity is also important, because it inspires us to follow our hearts, our true selves. Admittedly, that may be difficult, as evidenced by the attitudes (not to mention legal sanctions) inflicted upon homosexuals in England at the time. However, the more we can be true to our beliefs, the more confidence it inspires – and the greater our chances of being able to bring about solutions that ultimately suit our needs. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Turing was not able to enjoy the fruits of his efforts at the time, but the prevalence of what his conceptions have led to is a lasting tribute to his contributions to society, technology and the world at large.
“The Imitation Game” is a very complete picture, well executed on all fronts, with solid performances, great character development, excellent period piece production values and a skillful blending of story lines from multiple time periods. It can be a little formulaic at times, but that’s easily overlooked in light of its many other strengths.
The performances of Cumberbatch and Knightley are truly noteworthy, and they have been lavished with praise on many fronts. Both have received nominations as best lead actor and best supporting actress in the Critics Choice, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award competitions. The film itself is also a strong contender for best picture, having been nominated as such in the Critics Choice and Golden Globe Award programs. In all, it has racked up 14 nods in the three contests, with more recognition almost sure to follow.
The mystery of life need not be so intractably enigmatic if we know how to look at it. We have the means to solve the riddles posed to us if we’re only willing to make the effort to do so. Unlocking the secrets of everyday life, or of even existence itself, can be rewarding beyond measure, and now we have cinematic guidance to help show us the way – and all thanks to the efforts of a previously unsung British war hero.
Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.