How does The Theory of Everything stack up against The Imitation Game?

Two big films about real-life geniuses – Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything and Alan Turing in The Imitation Game – are screening during the Dubai International Film Festival. Here is what is driving all that Oscar buzz.
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. The Weinstein Company, Jack English / AP photo
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. The Weinstein Company, Jack English / AP photo

You’ve heard of the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla’ in Manila. Well, this year’s Dubai International Film Festival will feature the Scrum of the ­Cerebrum.

In the red corner, clocking in at 114 minutes, with an impressive 11 awards on the festival circuit this year, including the Oscar bellwether Audience Choice award at the Toronto ­International Film Festival, is The Imitation Game.

And in the blue corner, at just over two hours, the winner of two lead actor awards and the opening night gala at this year’s festival, The Theory of Everything.

Gentlemen, let’s have a fair fight. Remember the difference between a law and a theorem and observe the Heisenberg ­uncertainty principle. Now, let’s get out there and ­differentiate!

The Contenders

The Imitation Game: Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the British pioneering ­mathematician and computer scientist who developed a machine that helped break the vaunted German Enigma code during the ­Second World War. Despite his efforts in ­winning the war, Turing was prosecuted for his homosexuality.

The Theory of Everything: Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking, the physicist who explained the origin of the universe using the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Hawkins was diagnosed in his ­early 20s with ALS, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s ­disease, which has left him almost ­completely ­paralysed.

The Tale of the Tape

Height: At 1.83 metres, Cumberbatch stands three centimetres taller than Redmayne.

Age: Redmayne is 32, six years younger than Cumberbatch.

Experience: Cumberbatch has played tortured geniuses before. He was Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate and played the title character in the 2010 TV movie Van Gogh: Painted With Words. He also portrays super sleuth Sherlock Holmes and evil mastermind Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. Redmayne hasn’t played any brainiacs, but he did portray Colin Clark, the narrator of My Week With Marilyn and Marius Pontmercy, the student who joins the republican revolution, in Les Misérables.

Advantage: The Imitation Game. Poindexters are right in Cumberbatch’s wheelhouse.

The men who yell “cut”

James Marsh, the director of The Theory of Everything won an Oscar for his documentary about a Frenchman who snuck into the World Trade Center in 1974 and traversed the two towers by way of a high wire. The 51-year-old Brit followed up Man on Wire with the BAFTA-nominated Project Nim, the true story of an ape raised as a human by a hippie New York college professor.

The Imitation Game is the first English-­language film for Morten Tyldum. The 47-year-old is well-known, however, in his native Norway. His debut feature, Buddy, about an unlikely reality-TV star, won the Scandinavian ­country’s Amanda Award for Best Picture in 2003. ­Tyldum’s art-theft thriller Hodejegerne ­(Headhunters) was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Film not in the English Language three years ago.

Advantage: The Theory of Everything. Man on Wire and Project Nim were so fascinating that we’d watch anything by Marsh.

The Cornerwomen

Women were not allowed to work at Bletchley Park, the home of the code breaking programme. But Turing made an exception for Joan Clarke, who is played in The Imitation Game by Keira Knightley. Theirs is the major relationship in the film, with Knightley giving the socially awkward Turing advice on how to better fit in, and Turing protecting Clarke.

Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones) and Hawking have a more traditional courtship that culminates in marriage and three children. Of course, there’s the small matter of the ALS that relentlessly reduces her husband’s physical capabilities. The effort required to care for her husband leaves Jane, a college-educated woman in her own right, little time for herself.

Advantage: The Theory of Everything is based on Wilde Hawking’s book, so her character ought to be the best developed, but it is Knightley as the Mickey to Cumberbatch’s Rocky that gets the points. “I am a woman in a man’s job,” she tells Turing. “I don’t have the luxury of being an ass.”

The Scorecards

The critics, as per the aggregator Metacritic, score it 72/100 for The Theory of Everything to 71 for The Imitation Game.

Film fans, as calculated by the International Movie Database (IMDb) score it 8.4/10 for The Imitation Game to 7.8 for The Theory of Everything.

Advantage: Redmayne does great bodywork in The Theory of Everything, but his Hawking is too mawkish. Despite all his suffering, all he seems to do is smile. Feelings of worthlessness? Feelings of rage? You won’t find them here. Instead, it’s banter about Spanish poetry and astrophysics delivered in the style of the Gilmore Girls and shot like a gauzy greeting card.

Best line: “I have a slight problem with the celestial dictator premise.”

The Imitation Game would be compelling if it were only about a man persecuted because of his homosexuality or an independent woman who breaks through in a bastion of masculinity. But the film also wrestles with fascinating issues. Each hour you fail to break the code, your countrymen die; how do you perform such calculus without going mad? Think back to a time before computers; how did we learn to trust that machines could do the work of the human mind and do it faster?

Best line: “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

artslife@thenational.ae

The Imitation Game plays on Tuesday, Dec. 16th at 6pm at Madinat Arena and on Wednesday, Dec. 17th at 6:15pm at Mall of the Emirates Cinema 11

• The Theory of Everything plays on Wednesday, Dec. 10th at 8pm at Madinat Arena

Published: December 7, 2014 04:00 AM

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