PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

London Film Festival 2014 Day 5: 'The Imitation Game' and 'X Plus Y'

Two well-made, humane films focus on the lives of maths prodigies: Morgan Matthews’ modestly-scaled X Plus Y and Morten Tyldum’s epic Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game.

“I find any communication of a non-mathematical nature … difficult,” confesses Nathan (Asa Butterfield), the autistic teenage math prodigy protagonist of Morgan Matthews’ X Plus Y. Precisely the same self-description might be given by another of the heroes featured in one of this year’s LFF films: Alan Turing, as portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game.

It’s surprising just how well Matthews' and Tyldum’s films complement each other: the one a modestly-scaled crowd-pleaser focusing on a teenager’s goal to compete in a Mathematics Olympiad, the other a handsome historical drama celebrating a figure belatedly recognised as one of the key players in the Allies’ victory in World War II.

But as empathetic explorations of the sense of alienation experienced by the prodigiously gifted -- specifically the mathematically gifted – these two movies resonate. Amusingly, the films even have one performer in common: excellent young Alex Lawther, apparently the go-to actor for maths geniuses right now, who plays one of Nathan’s fellow competitors at the Olympiad in X Plus Y and incarnates the young Turing in The Imitation Game.

Having based the movie on Andrew Hodges’s biography Alan Turing: The Enigma the screenwriter of The Imitation Game, Graham Moore, has commented that he didn’t want the film to “feel like another stodgy biopic.” “Stodgy” would be unfair (the film moves spryly and swiftly, propelled by Alexandre Desplat’s insistent score), but I’d argue that The Imitation Game is a picture that’s determinedly old-fashioned in its virtues. The film has even been taken to task by some critics for “wimping out” in its portrayal of Turing’s homosexuality by not including sex scenes, an interesting example of the current expectations of our thoroughly pornified, HBO-influenced culture.

In terms of structure, The Imitation Game constructs an interwoven triple time-line that focuses on three key periods in Turing’s life: his school days, and a tenderly blossoming first romance with another pupil; his secret wartime work as part of the Bletchley Park code-breaker team and his development of the revolutionary electromechanical machine capable of cracking 3,000 Enigma-generated naval codes; and his arrest and prosecution for “gross indecency” in the '50s.

“I like solving puzzles,” Cumberbatch’s Turing frequently notes. And, elegantly handled as it is, the structure of The Imitation Game does require the audience to do some work, making the movie itself into something resembling a puzzle to solve.

Part of that puzzle is the mystery of Turing himself, of course: a brilliant man ill-equipped for everyday communication (or, initially, collaboration), and one who ends up betrayed and gruesomely medicated by the country he did so much to save. Cumberbatch’s superb, moving performance is the ace up the movie’s sleeve, conveying with deep compassion and insight the oddity of genius. Cumberbatch has a way of pronouncing “Enigma” so that the word takes on a suggestive, poetic quality and, without ever sentimentalising, he ensures that your heart goes out to Turing even when he’s being a pain.

As Joan Clark, the only woman on the code-breaker team and Turing’s eventual fiancee-of-convenience, Keira Knightley (twittering in some horrid hats) has some off-puttingly arch moments but comes through in a few scenes, and elsewhere the film feels fully inhabited by an ensemble of talented Brits, including Mark Strong, Matthew Goode, Rory Kinnear, Charles Dance, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard and Jack Tarlton.

Admirably, the film doesn’t over-emphasise Turing’s martyrdom: if anything, it finally errs too much on the side of uplift, determinedly turning tragedy into triumph in its closing moments. But it’s a well-made, intelligent and moving account that succeeds in accessibly and entertainingly bringing Turing’s story to a wider audience.

X Plus Y (2014)

The aims of X Plus Y may seem minor by comparison, but Matthews’ movie turns out to be a very delightful thing, and a film that’s also astute in its exploration of the pressures and tensions of the gifted, as it presents the talented young Nathan -- grief-stricken yet unable to express his emotions – gradually coming out of his shell for greater engagement with the world.

James Graham’s script doesn’t always take the predictable route, and if the film is a little fussy visually in its attempts to convey the protagonist’s perception of the world, it does boast a strong, atmospheric feel for location, as the movie moves from the English suburbs to the city of Taipei where the Olympiad selection takes place.

Butterfield’s slightly recessive, withdrawn quality hasn’t always suited the starring roles he’s had, but he's an absolutely perfect fit for Nathan, and the young actor is well supported by a good cast. The film reunites Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall after their success on the London stage in Constellations, and if there’s a slight strain of schtick to Spall’s jokey, blokey performance as Nathan's tutor the actor does also find some engaging vulnerabilities in his character.

Hawkins, meanwhile, is heartbreakingly good as a mother desperately trying to connect with her closed-off son, and Eddie Marsan brings liveliness and colour to his characterisation of the Olympiad team-leader. The movie adds up to a lovely piece of work, one that, like The Imitation Game honestly earns the emotions it elicits.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.