Imitation Game

We’ve just returned from watching The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This is a very well executed, and deeply themed film. The story of Alan Turing, the Enigma machine, and the cracking of its code by a small group of mathematicians and linguists during the Second World War through the use of Turing’s development of the first electronic computer, is well known to most computer scientists and mathematicians, particularly those of us working in the defense industry. The accuracy of the portrayal of this 3 year long story in a 90 minute film undoubtedly is imperfect, but the key elements of the reality of struggling with a massively important problem under severe time pressure are well-represented.

Lesser known may be the reality of personal isolation of the true intellectual. This isolation begins at an early age when the brightest are ostracized for being odd and socially awkward, as their mental strength focuses on learning and undervalues social interaction. Exposure to verbal or physical attacks from age peers who either do not value intelligence, or fear who they cannot understand, leads to a spiral of further isolation and further abuse throughout adolescence and into adulthood. This is exhibited extremely well in the film, and was not unnecessarily exaggerated.

But the true power of the film, reflecting the real world story, is the tragic destruction of this brilliant man, a war hero not of brawn but of mind, by a society that could not be allowed to know of his greatness. Even had his contribution not been hidden in military secrecy, the general public would not value his achievement specifically because it was a victory of mind and not metal. The unthinking hatred of deviancy that created the law by which Turing was destroyed is the true importance of this story. That hatred of the unusual may be disappearing in the form of homophobia, but it remains very potent toward anyone who rises to become “too” successful, whether in wealth, in business, or intellect.

The plot is uncomplicated, and the theme not at all hidden, but in a modern film presenting a difficult message depth and complexity are not to be expected. I strongly recommend this film to anyone past the age of 12, as long as the parents are willing to handle a conversation about homosexuality. This element of the movie is handled with unexpected tact, with no objectionable scenes or conversations. The one sexually-related (and completely unnecessary) comment that verges on the tactless is presented so obliquely that I didn’t even recognize it for what it was for several seconds after it had been delivered.

In summary, this is not a movie to miss. One more positive, in my opinion, is that unlike the similar story portrayed in A Beautful Mind some years ago, Turing is not a neurologically flawed genius. He is a brilliant engineer (not a scientist) who applies his skill to an immediate and real-world problem, and wins a war of minds, thanklessly.

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