The Imitation Game seems unlikely to win Best Picture, but the crackerjack screenplay, by Graham Moore, has a good shot to win Best Adapted Screenplay. It takes the life of mathematician Alan Turing and turns it into an Enigma code that comes together letter by letter, intercutting three time periods. The dialogue, which you can tell stars like Benedict Cumberbatch (Turning) and Kiera Knightley (who plays his colleague and beard) are enjoying immensely, is sharply witty and dramatically charged. Other than a certain sawhorse refrain that clumsily returns as a mantra to bludgeon dimwitted audience members who require their themes spoonfed, I loved it.
It works as a spy thriller, it works as an emotional mystery, it works as the tale of a tragic decline. Pay no attention to the naysayers who are tarring it with the “not historically accurate” brush (like poor Selma). Rubbish. To understand history, you have to engage with the people and the events and Imitation Game is a perfect blueprint for how to do that and make an entertaining film at the same time.
Now, if you know going in how Turing met his end then you may, like me, feel that there was a case to make it a part of this story beyond just a title card. The filmmakers opted not to dramatize that, and I respect that. But I do feel the film ‘chickened out’ a bit at this and some other harsher aspects of the true story. Commercially, of course, indisputably they made the right call.
This scientist biopic also surprised me. Yes, it has the awkward love story and the uplifting struggle against a debilitating neurological disease, but it also goes into some places with the characters I wasn’t expecting. Perhaps because it is based on Hawking’s first wife’s memoir rather than his own accounts, it offers a unique perspective on his professional achievements and the challenges of raising a family and sustaining a marriage.
Eddie Redmayne positively disappears into the role. I know it’s conventional wisdom that playing disabled is Oscar bait, but this is no dilettante performance. At every turn there is a trap of exaggerating the look and movements of the real Hawking into clownishness. But Redmayne never does. That would be enough (dayenu!) but Redmayne also adds a layer of — for lack of a better term — ‘eye-acting’ that provides a window into the character’s deepest thoughts and feelings. It’s worth the ticket price alone.
The script, by Anthony McCarten, meanders a bit. It never quite brings its central metaphor home (Hawkings’ thoughts on the universe expanding forever or contracting to doom mirror his own attitudes toward facing his disease). But I’m also a fan of not forcing messy real lives into some artificial structure. Jane, the wife character (Felicity Jones), is quite interesting in her own right. Her struggling with fidelity and what her husband’s discoveries mean for her faith was all quite dramatic. I wish there had been even more of her journey: A scene of her struggling with the kids, struggling with Stephen’s bodily functions. (I believe the one time he’s shown on the toilet, he’s unrealistically wearing pants. #rant Filmmakers: either you show us the nitty gritty of what this disease is really like or don’t. Never go pant-on-toilet! #endrant)
In the end, I had some idea of what it was like to be Stephen Hawking and live his extraordinary life. I had a bit less of a sense of what it was like to be Jane, and almost no sense of what it was like to be his kid. Hawking is in his 70’s and still going strong. I wager this is not the last biopic we’ve seen of him, or of Mr. Turing.