Biopics about tortured geniuses are trending: After premiering at the recently-concluded Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF, a clutch of films from that genre will release this year.
Leading that group is The Imitation Game, which won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF, often considered a precursor to an Oscar. This film tells the story of British mathematician Alan Turing, who created what is known as the Turing machine during World War II, to decipher German code.
Since Turing’s project was classified for decades, his achievement in devising the forerunner of the modern computer was shrouded until recently.
A gay man at a time when homosexuality was illegal, Turing was convicted on charges of gross indecency in 1952, forced to undergo hormonal treatment and in June 1954, committed suicide at the age of 41.
Answering a question from the Hindustan Times, British actor Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Turing, spoke of the challenge of playing such a character: "You immediately hit walls as sort of a dumb actor trying to understand algebra. It is another language and an expertise that requires a lifetime and a PhD in pure math."
If Turing suffered for his sexuality, American chess champion Bobby Fischer was paralysed by his paranoia, as shown in Pawn Sacrifice. The film, starring Tobey Maguire as Fischer and Liev Schreiber as the USSR’s Boris Spassky, focuses on the Match of the Century, the battle for the world title between the two players in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1972.
Fischer prevailed to win his only world crown but never defended that title, dying in 2008 as a recluse and a refugee in Reykjavik.
In the case of physicist Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, there was a different challenge: Motor neurone disease left Hawking paralysed.
Despite that handicap, his pioneering research has revolutionised understanding of the universe.
Another film that looks at a flawed character is Love & Mercy, about Brian Wilson, founder of the iconic American band, the Beach Boys, and how drugs and depression almost destroyed him.
There’s a reason why such stories captivate filmmakers, as TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey said, "That kind of character is fascinating for any kind of storyteller because they have remarkable talents but they have challenges as well and that makes for good drama."
In 2001, A Beautiful Mind, about Economics Nobel Laureate John Nash, gathered Oscars as his story of schizophrenia coexisting with his formulation of game theory reached out to audiences worldwide. With a film like The Imitation Game, there’s a similar hope, as Cumberbatch said, "If we do anything right with this film, it is to bring Alan to a broader audience, in all his complexity."