Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.
The story of Alan Turing simultaneously touches on the history of modern computing and cryptography, the contribution military intelligence made to the Allied victory in WW2 as well as the repression of gays and women by the state.
The story also perfectly captures the tortured contradiction at the core of democratic capitalism; to pursue true individualism is to pit yourself against the will of the state.
The film deals primarily with Turing’s groundbreaking work at Bletchley Park as he leads a team of cryptographers in the development of a machine which eventually cracked the Nazi codes and hastened the victory of the Allied forces.
The performances are fantastic across the board but Benedict Cumberbatch deserves praise for his excellent portrayal of Turing. His performance gives a portrait of a man simultaneously grounded in the conviction of his ideas who advocated for logic and reason over sentimentality but also showed how these virtues came across as callousness to his associates and acquaintances.
Though it’s a hardly a serious flaw, I have a minor quibble with Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Joan Clarke. Her performance smacks of a new kind of cinematic cliché; the Virtuous, Intelligent, Tolerant, Independent Woman who is without flaw and beyond reproach. Naturally, she’s brilliant, compassionate, and suffers the sexist indignities she experiences with class and aplomb. It feels less like an actual person and more like a caricature and a sop to feminists and sanctimonious culture cops who go to films looking for female characters who meet some idealized fantasy of leftist feminist virtue and are monitoring films for their fidelity to the Bechdel Test. It’s hilarious and unsurprising that both Turing’s biographer and niece castigated the filmmakers for romanticizing their relationship and for their choice to cast a glamorous actress to play her.
The ending is heartbreaking and the emotions it wrenches are solidly earned. Turing’s death is a scathing indictment of state power. Though I hope that many will leave the film with this impression, the cynic in me dreads the desire this film will undoubtedly stoke to seek state power for “good”.
Turing was a giant and this film is a moving tribute to his immense legacy.