Some Ramblings - The Imitation Game (2014) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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How there were howls and scowls for Attenborough's epic 'Gandhi' outside India when the lean and scrawny spiritual leader of the country had been portrayed as nothing less than a saint, capturing none of his rough edges and abrasive qualities and depicting his life always under the warm glow of his halo! And this was the 'father of the nation' in question! This has always been the bane of bio-pics. Turn a blind eye on the darker aspects of one's life even if they have no bearing on what the man is finally remembered for and the film is accused of being a paean to the personality. To be fair to Attenborough Gandhi isn't remembered for his idiosyncratic ways, his obsession with bowel movements, or his questionable practices about testing his celibacy, though making them a part of the movie would have humanized the character than the current deification that it had been accused of. What is it that draws people to (auto-)biographies of memorable ones? It cannot just be about the roster of achievements that the great being managed to get under his name and how he notched them up one at a time. It is always about the journey - the trials, tribulations, and travails - he endured, he undertook to reach that pinnacle in human achievement braving the forces, situations and conditions that collude against his rise. That is the mantra of every bio-pic/biography. Find the flaw, find the force against, marry the two and make the personality overcome them both, which puts the achievement, however major or minor, on that bigger a pedestal, than a straightforward rise to the top through studiousness and judiciousness. Hollywood has swung both ways in recent times dishing out some outstanding personal pieces ('The People vs Larry Flynt', 'Man on the moon' - both by the same makers) some memorable ones ('A Beautiful Mind', 'The Cinderella Man' - again both by the same makers) and some standard fare ('Ray', 'Walk the line') treading the same formulaic line (personality / (flaw + force)) to the point that Judd Apatow made a parody bio-pic ('Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox story') lampooning the same predictable path of a Hollywood biographical movie. So what differentiates a great bio-pic from a good one? Answer: (Ironically) The character's failings. The harder they fall, the better it is for the movie.

Which is why 'The Imitation Game' may fall under a good attempt but never soars to greatness that the man in question (Alan Turing) deserves as the script stubbornly refuses to look at the dark side of Turing and portrays him always as a socially awkward, often misunderstood, mathematical genius (all of which he was) whose every step is second guessed by the second rated talent that surrounded him and his sole claim to fame (at least as depicted in the movie) was proving his superiors and comptratiots wrong. That his invention (that eventually became the modern day computer) saved more than a million lives by hastening the fall of Nazi empire during the second world war was all well and good (in real life), but without enough serrated edges on the script, be it resolutely refusing to talk about the strong sentiment against homosexuality (which Turing was) prevalent in the then British society (for which he eventually lost his life), or Turing's double life as a deeply closeted gay that made most of his interactions with his peers either awkward or fearful for the fear of being caught, the movie mainly focusses on Turing getting his algorithm right, building the first ever computer, making it all seem a science project for the majors and not a glimpse into the persona of a man who was beset with issues that an otherwise 'straight' scientist wouldn't had to deal with living in Britain during the 40's and 50's. That said, Benedict Cumberbatch is the sole reason why 'The Imitation Game' rises to a respectable level. Funny that he gets to portray both 'Sherlock' and now Turing, both arrogant, brilliant, and yet socially awkward and inept, with the main difference that as 'Sherlock' Benedict projects his stand-offishness outward and with Turing, takes it all inside - two sides of the same coin. The writing is big letdown with the lines spelling out everything - the intentions, future actions and deep down thoughts - that the movie might have played better as a radio drama than as a movie. For a British movie that could make stammering look greatly sympathetic (in the moving 'The King's speech', a few years ago), the same sensibility however doesn't seep into 'The Imitation Game', even if about a man more troubled and more frightened and living in more dangerous times for his ilk. As the English would say, 'Charming', but that's about it with 'The Imitation Game'.


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