As our week of extensive Oscar coverage continues, we’re pitting the Best Picture nominated films against each other, two at a time, to see how they compare. In this installment, it’s the turn of James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything and Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game. How are these films alike, how do they differ, and which is more successful in telling its very unique story?
THE SUFFERING BRITISH GENIUSES
More than any other pair of major films released in 2014, James Marsh’s Theory of Everything and Morten Tyldum’s Imitation Game are virtually interchangeable. They both document the difficult lives of two well-respected British scientists, faced with great personal struggle as they attempted to make tremendous breakthroughs in their respective fields. The stars of both films, Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch, are both nominated for Best Actor and their female co-stars- Felicity Jones and Keira Knightley- are recognised in the Best Actress and Supporting Actress categories. This already tells us something: Eddie Redmayne shares the “Leading…” billing with Jones, while Cumberbatch has been nominated as the sole star of his film. It is Cumberbatch who gives the better performance- by far. Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking involves a lot of gurning, shaking and other exaggerated expressions of disability. As Robert Downey Jr.’s Tropic Thunder character would quite offensively say, he “goes full retard”. This is the sort of overacting that usually wins an actor an Oscar, and Stephen and Jane Hawking’s glowing support for the film hasn’t exactly hindered its chances.
Cumberbatch, while no means a deserved nominee for Best Actor, brings a substantially higher level of subtlety to Alan Turing than Redmayne to Hawking. This may be because Turing was quite a quiet, subdued man with little in the way of LOUD CHARACTERISTICS, but its a role that had the potential/serious risk of becoming very Sheldon Cooper/Abed Nadir in its Aspergers-yness. Cumberbatch fights this in the first few scenes, holding back facial twitches and a horrendous, lurking lip curl. He gets over it soon and is excellent for the remainder of the film.
The Imitation Game is perhaps one of the most unambiguously directed films of all time. Harvey Weinstein was without a doubt the person most in control behind the camera, and everything on screen is 100% unoriginal, from the boring cinematography to the cliché-ridden sets. I was very frustrated at how underwhelming pretty much everything about The Imitation Game was. Its sole defining and redeeming characteristics (and the redemption they bring is extraordinary) are Cumberbatch and Knightley, both terrific and sympathetic throughout, and Alexander Desplat’s heartbreaking score, a close third to Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar work and Desplat himself’s Grand Budapest score for best of the year. Theory, meanwhile, takes a few small risks towards the end, none of which exactly pay off but all of which are more admirable than anything in Imitation Game.
Stephen Hawking, as the film informs us quite aggressively, has lived with a horrific, painful and limiting condition for several decades. The importance of his scientific work is not fully conveyed in the film, and it is hence difficult for one to sympathise with the man beyond his illness. Hawking is still alive and well, appearing in public on a weekly basis it would seem. Alan Turing, on the other hand, was criminalised for his homosexuality despite saving millions of lives during the war through his breakthroughs with intercepting Enigma (of course, these heroic actions should not be necessary for one to not be criminalised for expressing their love for another man!). He committed suicide after being subjected to chemical castration, a period of his life which is shown in the tragic final scenes of the film. It’s heavily debatable as to which man had a harder life- and it shouldn’t be debated by anyone sensible- but a more immediate smaller-scale debate relates to which formulaic, mediocre biopic is a better film….