He’s referring to the fact behind a break in at Turing’s home, but that remark turns out to be the biggest understatement not only of this movie, but perhaps of any movie this year.
Benedict Cumberbatch is Turing, a Cambridge mathematician who volunteers to help break the German’s most devastating weapon of war, the Enigma machine. “I like puzzles,” he says, “and the enigma is the most difficult puzzle in the world.” Called “the crooked hand of death itself,” it was a coding machine, thought to be unbreakable, that conveyed messages about every attack, every bombing run and every U-boat attack. The English tried for years to find the secret if the machine, but it wasn’t until Turing and his team—Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech and Keira Knightley—built a computer capable of decoding the Enigma’s missives that the war turned in favor of the good guys. It was a top-secret operation, classified for more than fifty years, but that wasn’t Turing’s only secret. Gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal, punishable by jail or chemical castration, he was forced to live a world of secrets, both personal and professional.
“The Imitation Game” is a story of defeat in triumph. Turing’s work marked a turning point in the war but the veil of secrecy denied him the acclaim that should accompanied his good work.
Cumberbatch seems to be making a career of playing misunderstood geniuses–WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Sherlock Holmes–and really embodies the quirks and quandaries of this man who seems ill equipped to deal with life outside of a math textbook. In a moment of anger Teresa (Knightley) calls him a “fragile narcissist” but the truth, as Cumberbatch plays it is more complex. He’s not fragile in the least. Throughout his life he makes difficult decisions, at boarding school, in relationships and later when he discovers the secret to Enigma but has to make the decision to allow a British convoy die rather than use information that would tip the Germans off that their machine had been compromised. Fragile he was not. A narcissist, perhaps, but at least he seems aware of it. “Mother says I can be off putting sometimes,” he says, “because I am the best mathematician in the world.”
Either way, as another character says, “I’ll give you a quid if you can find a more insufferable sod.”
That may be so, but in Cumberbatch’s hands he’s a fascinating character.
Supporting cast and period production values are top notch, but it’s Cumberbatch who excels, peeling back the layers of Turing’s enigmatic life.