Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is yet another dull tortured genius biopic in a very long line of dull tortured genius biopics. Before I get into my analysis of these types of films, I want to be clear about something from the onset. The Imitation Game is not an inherently bad film. In telling the story of how famed mathematician Alan Turing cracked the Nazi’s unbreakable Enigma code, thereby helping the Allies win World War II, Tyldum has made a perfectly average film. Tyldum, writer Graham Moore, and star Benedict Cumberbatch, spend 114 minutes capturing the full and tortured life of Turing, resulting in a safe movie that will surely tap directly into the hearts of many Oscar voters.
The formula is one defined by clichés. To name a few:
There’s the informal job interview scene, where our main character exercises his intelligence over his future boss by delivering countless witty retorts. Right as the boss has had enough, our hero says that One. Right. Word. that forces the boss to hire our hero. The Tortured Genius Film almost always stars a male, one who is backed by a strong supporting female character. The genius often suffers from sexual inadequacy, whether due to disability, sexual preference, or chemical influence. The film will contain countless scenes of our genius staring. Staring at charts, graphs, complex equations, blueprints. A lot of staring. He’ll surely have an A-ha! moment. These usually take place in bars or at parties. It’s when the genius suddenly realizes That. One. Thing. that will solve all of his problems. It’s a scene that’s immediately followed by the genius running to his lab or office, putting a few pieces into place, before realizing that, Yes, he’s got it.
The film itself probably implores a flashback narrative: we open at the “big event,” then flash back decades, thereby leading up to, and ending with, the big event from the beginning. The musical score will be string-heavy; swelling at moments of great accomplishment, and subtly underscoring moments of dread. There won’t be anything particularly interesting about the cinematography. If the film is set in England (which they often are), it’ll feature many shades of brown. Brown clothes, brown foliage, brown walls. Lot of brown.
You get it. And again, it isn’t my intention to bash The Imitation Game. Everything I described in the previous two paragraphs is featured in this film, but I could easily be talking about The Theory of Everything, A Beautiful Mind, The King’s Speech, and numerous others. This review isn’t meant to discredit Turing’s work, or be flippant about his personal life, and the way in which his country shamed him. I have nothing negative to say about Alan Turing, the man, just as I have no ill will toward Stephen Hawking, John Nash and King George VI. The man isn’t the problem, the tired filmic adaptation of his life is.
My overall point is that The Imitation Game follows a safe and easily marketable formula that I find dull and unappealing. And look, I get that not every film can have the technical audacity of Birdman, or the narrative scope of Boyhood, or the ceaseless danger of Foxcatcher, or the frantic energy of Whiplash. What all those films do have, however, is a feeling of uniqueness. They are new, whereas The Imitation Game is barely average.
Perhaps it’s unfair for me to expect a Tortured Genius Film to stray from its formula. Hell, you might even argue that it’s foolish of me to pay to see a movie like The Imitation Game, when I all but know that I’m not going to appreciate the way it’s story is told. Point well taken. If I wasn’t obsessed with seeing every film that garners serious Oscar consideration, then I’d likely move right past The Imitation Game. But until that obsession subsides, I can expect to sit and watch The Imitation Game’s of each passing year. Sitting and watching and wishing I wasn’t able to call the film’s shots long before they happen. D+