These days, you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a political campaign rather than a specific movie release window featuring The Imitation Game. The sniping at film awards frontrunners that occurs every year has become increasingly sharp and focused with every cycle, and the 2014 crop of titles is no different. As usual, historical subject matter heads up most of the field of competition and, while such creative endeavors seem to almost automatically give filmmakers a shot at Oscar gold, it also leads to the kind of bitter mud-slinging we see in election year. Widely praised by audiences though it may be, The Imitation Game does not go unscathed.
Based on the book Alan Turing: The Engima by Andrew Hodges, the film is written for the screen by Graham Moore, who previously wrote short films and an episode of the TV version of 10 Things I Hate About You. With Morten Tyldum (Headhunters) in the director’s chair, it tells the real tale of English mathematician Alan Turing, who led the effort to crack the Enigma code during World War II. Turing was instrumental in the achievements of the intelligence services based at Bletchley Park during the global conflict and is widely acknowledged to have helped bring a swifter end to the fighting, consequently saving lives. His work was largely overlooked by the public, however, due to both strict policies of secrecy surrounding the code-breaking efforts and his conviction and punishment in the United Kingdom on charges of homosexuality in 1952 — two years before his death. Benedict Cumberbatch leads the cast as Turing, with Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, and Mark Strong all providing support.
Though it opened in early December with a very small, limited release of just four U.S cinemas, the Guardian reports that The Imitation Game earned an estimated $120,500 per theatre, making it an unprecedented success. However, just as Ava DuVernay’s powerful and celebrated Selma has come under attack regarding alleged historical inaccuracies — as reported by Variety — so The Imitation Game faces its own accusations from altogether different critics.
In a recent post for the New York Review Of Books, Christian Caryl took issue with the way in which the very real personality and life of Alan Turing has been rendered in The Imitation Game.
“To anyone trying to turn this story into a movie, the choice seems clear: either you embrace the richness of the Turing character and trust the audience to follow you there, or you simply capitulate by reducing him to a caricature of the tortured genius. The latter, I’m afraid, is the path chosen by director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore …”
This caricature, Caryl states, is not only at odds with reality, but also the apparent intention of The Imitation Game itself.
“In perhaps the most bitter irony of all, the filmmakers have managed to transform the real Turing, vivacious and forceful, into just the sort of mythological gay man, whiney and weak, that homophobes love to hate.”
“This is indicative of the bad faith underlying the whole enterprise, which is desperate to put Turing in the role of a gay liberation totem but can’t bring itself to show him kissing another man — something he did frequently, and with gusto.”
The script, by Graham Moore, was included in the prestigious 2011 Black List. Speaking to Deadline, he reflected on the way in which he came to The Imitation Game — a process that answers, in some ways, Caryl’s criticisms.
“I had been a lifelong Alan Turing obsessive. Among incredibly nerdy teenagers, without a lot of friends, Alan Turing was always this luminary figure we’d all look up to. Over the years, I would go to my agents, my manager, and I would say ‘Hey, there’s this amazing true story about this gay English mathematician who committed suicide in the 1950s.’ And they would be like, ‘Please don’t write that script. That is an unmakeable film.'”
“We wanted to open up the process of code-breaking to the audience … We wanted you to be able to follow it. The film should feel like a wartime thriller, because for Alan Turing and the people involved, this really was a wartime thriller. Breaking the code was the great mystery to solve.”
The Imitation Game continues to gather momentum in its wider release — despite the criticism — with box office cash registers ringing ever louder, and The Human Rights Campaign announcing its intention to honor the filmmakers behind the movie at a Gala Dinner in New York on January 31. The film also made a strong showing in the announcement of nominations for the 2015 Golden Globes, with recognition for The Imitation Game in the categories of Best Picture (Drama), Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Such momentum may well push it to the front of the line come Oscar nomination time — scheduled for January 15, 2015.
[Image via SchmoesKnow.com]