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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Imitation Game is a historical drama that explores the role that cryptologists and mathematicians played in World War II. Expect candid discussions about lives lost during war, accompanied by footage showing bombs falling and soldiers firing guns. A boy is also tormented by school bullies. Leading the team of scientists trying to break the Germans' Enigma code is Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a closeted homosexual who ends up being vilified for his sexuality. The subject of is handled fairly delicately and is discussed in mostly oblique ways, though characters do call him slurs, like "toff." Ultimately there are strong themes about the power of persistence and the fact that gender doesn't dictate intelligence or competency.
What's the story?
THE IMITATION GAME begins in 1941, when Europe is in the clutches of Nazi Germany. In Britain, air raids have become a way of life, and thousands of soldiers are dying on the battlefield. To fight its enemies, the British government recruits the country's best mathematicians and scientists to help break the code for the Enigma, a machine the Germans use to send instructions to their military personnel. Enter Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a Cambridge-educated cryptologist who, with a team of mathematicians -- including the pioneering Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), one of a very few women on the project -- sets out to crack Enigma and its secrets. But Turing holds a secret of his own: He's gay. And he may be attacked by his peers, and the government, for that fact.
Is it any good?
Without question, Cumberbatch is up to the task of bringing to life a complicated, brilliant man. Turing is multi-dimensional, his emotional depths layered. He is, by far, the best part of this enjoyable, if flawed, film. As entertainment, The Imitation Game has loads to recommend it: It's paced well, features strong performances from the ensemble, and does a fine enough job of explaining the ideas behind cryptology. But history buffs will know that it's a condensation and that the filmmakers have been liberal with their shortcuts. Bletchley Park, where the Enigma code was broken, had dozens of code-breakers toiling on the project, not the handful shown here. (They're framed and shot like a gang of superheroes before the climax of a big face-off -- a simplistic take on greatness.)
Turing's achievements can't be boiled down to one cinematic moment, as they are here. It would have been better if the movie had attempted to show the project's elaborateness, rather than simplifying it for the screen. And his hidden homosexuality is given a rather superficial study, its impact on his life hurried in the final act. Still, Cumberbatch deserves all the praise that he'll no doubt reap. He's fantastic.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Turing's personal life and how it was dragged through the mud in the 1950s. How does The Imitation Game depict this? How might it be different today?
Some facts were altered to fit the movie's narrative. How do you feel about that? Should movies inspired by history be strictly factual? Why might filmmakers choose to tweak the facts?
How does the movie portray bullying? What effects does it have?
- In theaters: November 28, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: March 31, 2015
- Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode
- Director: Morten Tyldum
- Studio: Weinstein Co.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 114 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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