MOVIE REVIEW: The Imitation Game

The film The Imitation Game flashes back to Alan Turing’s childhood prep school.

2014, THE IMITATION GAMEIf 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.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “MOVIE REVIEW: The Imitation Game”

  1. Becca and I just saw this on Wednesday and were pleasantly surprised. I had read a very negative review of the film and had some trepidation, but I really enjoyed the movie.

  2. Roger, wow, I’m on the computer! VICTORY! I scrolled down to this post because I am somewhat of a student on Enigma – it started when I happened to pick up a copy of A Man Called Intrepid at the library, I think in high school. That was about Sir William (?) Stephenson, who was at Bletchley Park and headed up the effort to round up code-breakers using some of the same methods as Turing. Not sure who got the idea first, but whatever. So much was written about Enigma in that book, I think you would find it fascinating.

    There is also much in the book about my former residence, the Princess Hotel in Bermuda, and the key to intercepting mail from Europe to the States and vice versa.

    About the movie, since we are longtime Cumberbatch fans, we bought tickets without reservation. I think Turing probably had Asperger’s Syndrome, as do so many math/science whizzes, as well as artists and musicians. It brings both a singularity of focus and a sad awkwardness in the social realm. Riley has it, you know, and once we figured it out, she sees it as a work in progress, both finding time for “sabbath” and engaging people in this world.

    Turing was gay, and yes, it was illegal. Again, loads of men at Bletchley Park were gay… and many gay men, unable to serve in the military, put themselves in danger as spies, including Noel Coward, and the bisexual Marlene Dietrich. Eric Moschewitz, composer of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” was a codebreaker at Bletchley, which is near Berkeley Square, and he was a gay man. Knightley’s character seems to have been invented for the movie to sell tickets.

    Benedict Cumberbatch came on our radar via Sherlock, the PBS Masterpiece Mystery series. Worth Netflixing from the beginning, as it’s a fascinating modern take on Sherlock, and Martin “Hobbit” Freeman is his Dr. Holmes. Funny, of course verrrry British, but smart and interesting. He was also in a couple of other series on the BBC as is the “It Boy” in Britain. Cumberbatch’s fans call themselves Cumberbitches!

    FYI, as Freeman plays the Hobbit, Cumberbatch provides the voice of Smaug, and there is precious little special effect on his voice. He is very talented.
    Final note on accuracy: Many have posited that Turing poisoned his own apple with arsenic, as a take on Snow White. Except he had no Prince Charming to awaken him with a kiss. This in itself makes the movie so real to me.

    Thanks for this. I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your review. Peace, Amy

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