The Imitation Game (3.5/5)
We love our heroes, especially those who paid their dividends during war-time. A soldier’s sacrifice in the streets, in the trenches, and at sea drives a powerful narrative that’s deservedly steeped in romance. Yet, there are also heroes left unknown, ghosts with unmarked graves. We would be fools if we thought wars are simply won and lost on the battlefield itself. There are other pawns in the game; they’re just underrepresented or buried beneath government seals. One of these heroes is Alan Turing, and he’s the subject of the Academy Award nominated The Imitation Game. Spanning three separate decades, The Imitation Game has the unenviable task of capturing Turing’s essence and significance in a place and time that simply couldn’t accept him. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, The Imitation Game places us by the master cryptologist’s side, watching him give birth to the modern computer and delivering the death of Germany’s densely crafted ciphers during World War II. The Imitation Game captures the amazing accomplishments of Turing and his code breaking colleagues, one of which was Joan Clarke (an impressive Keira Knightley), a puzzle’s worst nightmare. But the film also focuses on a secret Turing is harboring himself: his sexuality.
Turing, already dealing with other social idiosyncrasies, painstakingly works for a country that deems his sexual orientation unlawful. There’s a complexity here that’s ripe with drama, but The Imitation Game doesn’t explore Turing’s struggle any more than it treats it like an anecdote. This issue is not just associated with Turing’s sexuality, but also the ramifications surrounding the success of his Enigma machine and his relationship with his colleagues, specifically Joan. Admittedly, there’s a lot of story filtered down into the film’s two hour run time, but this feels like a bullet point presentation of Turing’s life. His war-time triumphs are wonderfully realized, but the tragic ending he faced is marginalized in the name of digestible cinema. With that being said, The Imitation Game is handsomely made. Outside of some poorly integrated battle sequences, the time period is immaculately reconstructed, and the score from Alexandre Desplat is eloquent and rousing. Cumberbatch’s performance as Turing is powerful. With various ticks and a stutter in hand, none of which become over the top, Cumberbatch captures the genius and pain of Turing with grace and precision. He is the film’s only asset that lives up to the hype, which is a shame because Alan Turing is a hero for not only helping save millions of lives with his machine, but also for absorbing the bigotry of years past. Unfortunately, The Imitation Game is more concerned with the former than the latter, leaving the real Alan Turing an enigma.
The Babadook (4.25/5)
What part of death do people fear the most? Is it the notion of ceasing to exist? Or do we fear how our death will impact the living? Whenever I think of my own mortality, it revolves around how my death would negatively affect my loved ones. I think we all can agree that sorrow doesn’t vanish. It festers. Even though I’m nearly twelve years removed from my father’s death, there are still objects and sensations even, that remind me of his existence long ago. Time erodes the grief, but even the faintest of reminders can trigger an immediate reaction of loving nostalgia or suffocating melancholy. This notion is the basis for The Babadook, an Australian horror film that leans heavily on emotional manipulation, not gore or cheap tricks. Amelia (Essie Davis), the film’s protagonist, is sorrow’s vessel. Widowed and having difficulties taking care of her erratic six-year-old son Sam, Amelia is slowly becoming unhinged. Sleep deprived and alienated from her family, Amelia waits for a pardon from her life. On a random night, she reads a book at Sam’s behest. Sam’s choice is “Mister Babadook,” a depraved and frightening pop-up book either drawn with charcoal or the ashes from Hell. Disturbed by the book’s jarring detail and threats, Amelia smartly destroys the book.
Naturally, that’s when the true horror begins, as the story’s monster creeps and crawls in the shadows of Amelia’s house, tormenting her with a deliberate pace. Much like Amelia, we never really see The Babadook outside of its crude drawings. All we experience is its thunderous bumps in the night. Writer/director Jennifer Kent impressively constructs a horrific experience through shadows and intimation, but The Babadook truly pierces our senses when Amelia loses her grip on reality. The juxtaposition of violence and macabre imagery with something as innocent as a pop-up book, is just one example of Kent’s deconstruction of our mental health. As the line between reality and nightmare begin to blur, accepting the darkness becomes not only easier, but necessary for Amelia. That’s the true horror of The Babadook. It’s not about the actual existence of a monster. It’s about the overpowering nature of grief, an entity so powerful it possesses us to behave in self-destructive ways. Sure, the film’s defining metaphor is a bit obvious, but through Essie Davis’ commanding, delirious, and empathetic performance, as well as Jennifer Kent’s commitment to psychological terror, The Babadook is a devastating horror film.