Most people know Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, and do not know Alan Turing at all. Upon going to see The Imitation Game, this was the knowledge that I myself had. Actor and mathematician merge together in this stunning WWII biopic to create one of the most interesting and deeply complex film protagonists of this year.
Alan Turing was one of Britain’s finest mathematicians, cryptanalysts and also the founder of computer science and thus responsible for the birth of the general purpose computer. During the Second World War he was accountable for the decryption of the German ciphers and ultimately for cracking Enigma and helping the Allies win the war. He created an improved version of the polish Bombe machines which used electromechanics to decode the German messages. He is considered a “bright light gone out too soon” as he took his own life after being chemically castrated for being a homosexual in 1954, at the age of 41.
We know from Alan Turing’s personality what we see of it on-screen in The Imitation Game. From the beginning, it is clear that Turing does not conform to social norms and thinks and interacts differently with other people. It is mentioned that he does not get jokes, answers questions literally, and seems romantically awkward, which we find out is due to his fundamental decisions about his sexuality that are violently reprimanded by the British government. Turing is referred to as a monster, an intensely complex mastermind and a completely introverted and inhumane being.
In the film, Alan Turing takes great pride in his work and prioritizes its success over the development, and even the sustainability of his relationships. In the end, Turing becomes a victim of his era as even after having saved thousands of lives by reducing the War by at least two years, he still gets his life torn away and is left as but a mere shell of his former self, all because of the discontentment voiced by the government regarding his sexuality. He is seen as a prodigy and a fascinating mastermind, but above all else, he is an outsider looking in. Intricately complex and impossible to decode – He is Enigma.
So who else to interpret the unbreakable code and the astounding mind that is Alan Turing other than Sherlock Holmes himself? Benedict Cumberbatch shines as Turing and gives an Oscar worthy performance of the underrated mathematician. He brings incredible depth to the character by depicting his every emotion honestly and powerfully and while still managing to keep a contained and tense performance throughout the film. His character breathes through his fast-paced cryptical lines and prickly attitude towards others. The viewer senses Turing’s social and mental isolation from the other characters and it is this uniqueness that keeps eyes on him at all times.
The complexity of the character lies in the unspoken, in the countless threads of thoughts that we can imagine traveling at the speed of light through Turing’s brain, and that are manifested by the perpetually intense and fascinating facial expressions given by Cumberbatch. The actor gives the performance of a career by honoring one of the greatest minds of our country, and portraying his social marginality and spiral into self-destruction in a melancholic and powerfully beautiful manner.
Alan Turing and Benedict Cumberbatch become one – A deeply sensitive and genius character, endlessly fascinating and intensely moving. Inside of all of us, Man and Monster come to life when faced with a challenge, and what defines which side triumphs is how we rise to the occasion and how we deal with said challenge. Inside the mind of the protagonist of The Imitation Game, both do.
Originally published on Epigram