If it weren’t for Alan Turing, you might not be reading this or much else on the Internet. He “was an English mathematician, wartime code-breaker and pioneer of computer science.”
But he was pretty much just a name to me until my friend Mary and I went to see The Imitation Game last week, as usual at The Spectrum in Albany. It was a story about how Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) and fellow mathematicians (including Matthew Goode, from the TV show The Good Wife, as Hugh Alexander) try to crack the enigma code that the Germans were using to transmit their movements.
The code was thought to be unbreakable because the number of calculations needed to suss it out was far greater than the human mind could tally in hundreds of years. But, Turing wondered, what would happen if one could devise a MACHINE to figure out what another machine was doing?
This was a difficult sell, in part because Turing was awkward, and, understandably, arrogantly confident in his talents. He was not a “people person.” When he finagles some control of the project, he uses a crossword puzzle to recruit a couple more people, including a young woman (Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke).
The film flashes back to Turing’s childhood prep school, where he was bullied and had but one very good friend. It also jumps forward, where the police, investigating a break-in at Turing’s house, discover secrets about his past and present life, including his homosexuality, which was a crime in 1950s Britain.
Despite his current popularity – type in BEN in IMBD, and Benedict Cumberbatch is the first name to pop up – I had only seen the lead actor in one other role, a small but important part in August: Osage County; he was quite good.
Here he carries the film, though Knightly and the other actors are also very good. The film uses some stock war footage, and, interestingly to me, it doesn’t look as obviously different as in some films I’ve seen.
The negative reviews – they were 90% positive on Rotten Tomatoes – chide the movie for taking Turing and making him less interesting, less nuanced than he should have been portrayed. Moreover, the screen overlay coda of his ultimate fate was considered a bit of a cheat. Since I knew only the name, I can’t speak to the former. The latter argument has some validity, I suppose, but a late scene in the movie does explain the situation to my satisfaction.
Bottom line: I watched what was on the screen, without the background on Turing, and found myself quite entertained and informed.