A Review of The Imitation Game (2014)
American historical drama thriller film directed by Morten Tyldum, with a screenplay by Graham Moore loosely based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges (previously adapted as the stage play and BBC drama Breaking the Code).
The scene opens in a police interrogation room. A thin gaunt middle aged man is sitting in a chair behind the interrogation table looking off into the distance as if preoccupied with great thoughts. The inspector walks in pausing ever so slightly and showing a look of bewilderment at what has come to pass. He is about to interrogate Alan Turing. Alan Turing the Cambridge mathematician and professor, who has been arrested on the charge of “public indecency”. In civilized British parlance that is short for, in this case, solicitation of a prostitute. But this particular prostitute is a man rather than a woman and a man who has readily confessed his crime.
Having investigated a break-in at professor Turing’s home some days earlier the inspector is very suspicious. Nothing was stolen from the house and the professor refused to discuss the break-in telling the officers he only needed a good housekeeper and that they should “leave him alone” . The professor was preoccupied with sweeping up spilled arsenic in a room almost entirely occupied by a giant machine. Suspicious, suspicious indeed and the flames of suspicion rose higher as the inspector attempted to delve into Turing’s war record only to find his file empty. Someone, perhaps Turing himself, did not want anyone messing around in his business. To the inspector this fit the pattern of the University Professor/Spy to a tee. He had heard of many such cases where a highly regarded university professor turned spy and began feeding government secrets to the Soviets. So this interrogation was the inspector’s chance to nail one of these turncoats red handed.
However, the inspector began his inquiry with an odd question: “Can machines think, Mr. Turing? “ Professor Turing looked up somewhat puzzled and after moving round the subject a bit made it quite clear that yes machines can think but, of course, they think “differently”
We then find ourselves in what is best described as an English Public School setting with young Alan and his best friend, Christopher. Alan it seems was a bit of the odd ball and was not well liked. While sorting and counting his peas and carrots during a meal one of his mates dumps a plate of food over his head to the great delight of the other boys. “They do these things because I am smarter than they are, he tells Christopher.” “No, Alan”,Christopher responds, they do those things because they “don’t like you.” It becomes clear that Alan and Christopher are much more than friends. When Christopher loans Alan a book about ciphers and codes the two boys devise their own code which they later use to pass notes to and from which no one else can understand. And, it is Christopher who facilitates Alan’s first experience with tragedy by dying during a school break leaving Alan alone and bewildered.
Twenty some years pass and it’s 1939. Great Britain has declared war on Germany. A younger version of the man we saw in the police station is now sitting in a large paneled office in front of a large mahogany desk. The door behind him opens and in comes Commander Alastair Denniston of the Royal Navy. Commander Denniston is a bit flapped by Turing’s presence and inquires “What are you doing in here”. “Well” says Turing the lady out there told me to wait in here. The dialogue continues and in the end Turing is hired to work for His Majesty’s Government on something called “Enigma” which is considered to be an unbreakable code through which the German military ties itself together into a cohesive weapon capable of massive destruction.
From here I will leave you to it. But suffice it to say the Imitation Game is engrossing and thought provoking. Could it have been a better movie, yes, but it is hard to see how. Cumberbatch has a knack for portraying brainy eccentric characters that morph into tragic figures who are decidedly unliked and unappreciated. Turing is no exception. He seems to have been doubly cursed by his homosexuality and what must have been a form of Asperger Syndrome. Unable to recognize social cues he is socially isolated. He displays his deepest feelings not for the woman (played by Keira Knightley) who obviously desperately loves him, but rather for the machine he created to break Enigma upon which he bestows the name of his first true love: Christopher. Despite his pathetique Alan Turing was the right man, for the right job, at the right time. His work and that of his team shortened world war two by at least two years saving thousands of lives and bringing an end to a true reign of terror.
One last thought. While not to derogate the contribution of sailors, soldiers and airmen and women everywhere this motion picture presents a different aspect to the typical war movie in that it shows us that even absent minded, slightly odd. professor types can also be warriors who are called upon to display great courage and endure hardship and suffering for their country as well.
I think the operative phrase here is “two thumbs up”!