Benedict Cumberbatch Explains the Subtle Intention of the Final Scene in 'The Imitation Game'

Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

He added of Lord McNally, who shot down the petition for Alan Turing's pardon in 2012, "He's still a homophobe — he's the one who needs to reconcile his attitude, not me"

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from The Imitation Game.]

"I'm gonna keep this brief," Benedict Cumberbatch charmingly promised the audience at New York City's 92Y on Sunday night, when explaining the specifics of Alan Turing's technological innovations shown in The Imitation Game. "I am quite simple — trust me! … It's a very daunting thing when you look at what his mind gave the world."

After tracing how the discoveries of Turing's World War II decoding machine led to the modern computer, Cumberbatch clarified that the Morten Tyldum-directed film "is not a period drama" but is "utterly relevant" now because of its discussion of Joan Clarke's (Keira Knightley) plight in a male-dominated workplace, as well as Turing's secret homosexual status, for which he was punished by the British government and eventually triggered his suicide. "Everything that he experienced influenced his mind, which, again, amplifies the volume of the tragedy of his death," he told Annette Insdorf, as part of 92Y's Reel Pieces series, of the math genius he portrays. "He's become a gay icon because he was true to his identity."

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Cumberbatch also repeated in response to an audience question that Turing's posthumous pardon in 2013 is "still too little, too late" and added of Lord McNally, who shot down the petition in 2012, "He's still a homophobe — he's the one who needs to reconcile his attitude, not me. … [Turing] is the only person who has the power to forgive, and he can't because we destroyed him."

Such a scene was left on the cutting-room floor, "a scene where the policeman comes into the house and discovers his body — the death scene, the suicide scene, and the solution of cyanide that's been drunken, some of the residue left on the bitten apple on the nightstand." Cumberbatch recalled that it "didn't feel right" during production, and Tyldum ultimately agreed during the editing process. Instead, the film's final scene sees Turing with "someone telling him something he never had told to him in his life: that he did matter — the fact that he was regarded as different and not normal was hugely important to the world and to everybody around him. No one had told him that in his life. So to end it on that note, with someone explaining, was our way of thanking him in the structure of the film, our eulogy to him."

Though the suicide is not shown, Cumberbatch added that it's alluded to, with subtlety, in the movie's last moments. "He walks in the doorframe and looks at the machine, which is the embodiment of the love of his life, Christopher. He smiles, and in my mind, what I was saying was, 'I'm coming to see you now.' He turns off the light, walks into the darkness, and that's it. That's what you see. I thought [Tyldum] was spot-on in his judgment of that."

Cumberbatch first heard about Graham Moore's Imitation Game script while shooting Star Trek Into Darkness, when he "was playing Khan and in a very different head space," he said with a laugh. He loved "how uncompromising it was — there was no vanity about the character. Graham was not trying to make you like him. He was introducing this extraordinarily difficult, diffident and different man with great humor. And that was a real relief because the minute you're playing clever for the sake of being clever, or just demonstrating intelligence, it's very dent as drama or anything that can engage you to further investigation or interest, I personally feel."

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Hoping to "serve his legacy to a broader audience," Cumberbatch then persistently pursued the Turing role while it was attached to another actor. "I was not onboard, but I was onboard with the idea of being onboard. In my head, I was already onboard!"

The actor was also asked about portraying another genius, Stephen Hawking, in the BBC's 2004 film, Hawking, which covered only two pivotal years of the scientist's life (as opposed to the decades shown in The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne). After Cumberbatch noted that Hawking and Turing are very different in personality and academic discipline, he admitted, "This is such a weird conversation — Eddie's a really good friend of mine. … I can't wait to see it. Everything he touches is so investigative and realized."

The Imitation Game hits limited theaters Nov. 28. Watch the video of the post-screening conversation below.

Twitter: @cashleelee