Theory of Nothing? A Review of The Theory of Everything
January 7, 2015
Plot vs. Story
July 29, 2014
Show, Don't Tell - Goal Setting Edition
June 27, 2018
The Thematic Writing of The Imitation Game
The main objective of a writer is not to convey a plot or even to tell a story (Plot vs Story). Rather, it should be to communicate a simple idea. Telling a story is not the same as communicating an idea. The writer may have a decent plot, but without the reason to follow the plot, the script will have no emotional impact. But the story is not the idea, either. The plot and story are merely the conduit for the idea; the idea being what the audience takes away from the experience, be it intellectual or emotional, or both.
Back in 2011, Graham Moore’s script, The Imitation Game, was #1 on the vaunted Black List for unproduced screenplays. Now the Academy may very well honor it with an Academy Award for Adapted Screenplay, the industry’s highest honor for produced work. The screenplay is based on the book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, by Andrew Hodges. The script's only real competition for an Oscar is Whiplash, by Damien Chazelle.
The Imitation Game is much more than the story of Alan Turing, or how he and his team cracked Enigma and helped to win the war, or that he was found "guilty" of being a homosexual. We get much more than a bullet point of Turing’s life and achievements. As the story weaves through three distinct periods in Alan Turing’s life, we are never confused. The brilliant stories are glued together with a simple idea. The idea is the universal statement about the human condition. It is theme. Theme is best described in a single word.
The Imitation Game is about secrets. Keeping secrets, sharing secrets, discovering secrets.
The main plot is discovering the Nazi’s secret. The subplot in Turing’s youth is about he discovers his secret, and how it will shape his future. The subplot after the war shows Turing’s secret being discovered. In each of the three timelines, the focus is on the emotional impact of the secrets. Turing is not the only one with secrets. Joan Clarke keeps secrets from her parents. John Cairncross has his own secrets. On the other side, Hugh Alexander confidently sees through other’s secrets. And Stewart Menzies, from MI6, is the epitome of manipulating secrets. A gem of a moment is Detective Nock’s turn from wanting to uncover a secret to the sad realization that some secrets should be kept private. Even small character conflicts center on secrets. ie, Turing having to sneak into Joan’s room. Turing wanting his own office. Young Turing passing encrypted notes. Every character, every moment is told through the lens of its theme.
The movie succeeds as a brilliant character study because Moore’s pages drip with theme.