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Imitation Game, The (Blu-ray Review)

27 Mar, 2015 By: John Latchem

Street 3/31/15
Anchor Bay
Box Office $90.26 million
$29.98 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.
Stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Mark Strong, Alex Lawther.

The fundamental question at the heart of The Imitation Game isn’t quite “what is normal?”, but rather something more akin to “what is the virtue of being normal?”

To explore this question, the film focuses on the life of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician of the early 20th century whose work and research helped define the computer age. Turing would never realize the extent of his legacy, dying at age 41 in 1954 of self-inflicted cyanide poisoning following an arrest for violating the anti-homosexual laws Britain had in place at the time (the film presents it as suicide, though there’s some historical controversy as to whether it may have been accidental).

Turing, as brilliantly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is presented as a hyper-intelligent oddball whose social skills would rival Sheldon Cooper. At the outbreak of World War II, Turing joins a top-secret British military program organized to decipher the secret of Germany’s famed message-coding machine, Enigma. While his colleagues set about solving the problem through conventional means, Turing envisions a machine that can crack any code at any time, and steamrolls through any obstacles to his ability to build it.

Even after breaking Enigma, Turing’s team must filter what they learn from it, lest their actions alert the Germans to redesign their machine and render Turing’s work meaningless. He forms an alliance with British Intelligence to wage a war of statistical probabilities, allowing some German attacks to get through while stopping others based on a public pretense that information was gathered by alternative means, taking advantage of the Enigma data without tipping their hand that they have it.

The film’s title comes from one of Turing’s most famous papers, in which he postulated whether it was possible for machines to think. Turing reasoned that the question of thinking machines was insufficient, since it presupposed some standard for what defines thought. Rather, Turing looked at the issue from the perspective of whether it were possible for a machine to think as a human does, to the point of convincing someone who didn’t know better that the machine were actually human.

It’s a test that can apply just as easily to Turing, a man who thought differently and as a result struggled in his attempts to imitate what would have been considered “normal.” In this regard, the film is a celebration of those who don’t conform to the standards of normalcy, who see things differently and make the world a better place because of it.

This sentiment echoes throughout the film with the repetition of a simple refrain: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

But the title is apropos because it isn’t just Turing who is trying to emulate something he’s not. This is a film brimming with characters who are hoarding secrets and maneuvering through them with various degrees of success, from the British spymaster (Mark Strong) manipulating government secrets, to a barely hidden Soviet spy on Turing’s team, to Turing’s friend and one-time fiancée, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who defies traditional gender roles to earn a spot on Turing’s codebreaking team.

Even Turing’s sabermetric approach to the war flies in the face of traditional warfare, the film points out. Turing’s commanding officer (Charles Dance from “Game of Thrones”) touts the discipline of the chain of command as the key factor in organizing a war effort, while Turing uses the secrets of Enigma to covertly orchestrate military strategy behind the lines as both sides continue to prolong a struggle that has already been won — an “imitation” of a real war, so to speak.

In the hands of screenwriter Graham Moore, who won a well-deserved Oscar for his efforts, the story of Turing takes on new dimensions in his struggle for acceptance and offers something for numerous potential audiences. The Imitation Game is part war drama, part spy thriller and part love story, tempering its moments of triumph with the underpinnings of tragedy.

There is a profound sadness in seeing Turing’s early years at school, isolated except for the one friend who encourages him to be himself — a friendship that resonates throughout Turing’s life and motivations even as the pair are separated by the circumstances of fate.

It’s a tale that adds so much more what would otherwise be a conventional story of a maladjusted genius helping his country win the war, and will leave viewers with that much more to ponder afterwards.

The Blu-ray offers a solid if not overwhelming slate of extras, including a rote 22-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a couple of deleted scenes, one of which depicts Turing’s supposed suicide. There’s also a 29-minute montage of the cast and crew participating in a variety of film festival Q&As to promote the film.

But the best extra is the full-length commentary with Moore and director Morten Tyldum, in which they carry on an insightful discussion about not only the making of the film, but also some of the historical context behind the story.


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