Postmortem: The Imitation Game

Alan Turing is one of the patron saints of computer science. I should know. I spent four years getting a degree in the subject, studying Turing Machines, reading about the Turing Test.

I knew the broad outlines of his life: foundational work in the theory of computing, instrumental in cracking the German Enigma code in World War II, chemically castrated for being a homosexual, died soon after by an apparent suicide.

But The Imitation Game – a Turing biopic focusing mainly on his work breaking Enigma – made me see him in a whole new way.

It’s a dramatization, of course, not a documentary, and it certainly takes liberties with the facts. Most notably, it portrays Turing as far more arrogant, antisocial, and humorless than he really was. Certain events are fabricated or exaggerated. And so on. I’m not exactly outraged. They wanted to make a good story, and they did.

For me, the film succeeds on every level. The script is funny, stirring, and sad. The acting (by Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing, Keira Knightley as a fellow code-breaker, and really, everyone) is brilliant. Visually, it’s very well done. I’m about as good a film critic as I am a master chef (i.e., not, for those wondering) so I won’t go into enormous detail, but it’s really just a beautiful movie.

Beyond that, it made Betsy and me curious about the actual person, the actual events. What was it really like, cracking Engima? Did Turing really write that letter to Churchill? What was his real relationship with Joan Clarke?

A work of fiction that moves you, and spurs you to learn about the facts. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Highly recommended.

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12 responses to “Postmortem: The Imitation Game

  1. I just LOVED the movie. And yes, it does make us wonder about the actual person and makes us learn more about him.

  2. I liked the movie quite a bit before I read up on it. The fact that so much of it was pure fiction really ruined it for me though…I think it actually does a disservice to Alan by twisting his personality and actions so much!

    One part that really bugged me was the ending where they called out Britain for their crimes against homosexuals. Yes, I understand it was an atrocity, but it really felt out of place to me. The ending combined with the timing of the release also made me feel like they were just fishing for awards.

    If anything good did come of the movie, it did make me want read more about him. From what I’ve read so far, the REAL Alan Turing sounds like quite a fascinating person (which is part of the reason I am so mad they recreated an already interesting character)!

    Even though I have some major qualms with it, it was truly an entertaining movie.

    One of the several reviews I read:
    http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/dec/19/poor-imitation-alan-turing/

    • I can see what you’re saying, and I agree it would’ve been cool to get something closer to what really happened, but it doesn’t bother me too much. The film didn’t claim to be a documentary. It’s a work of art, and I think it succeeded as art. (Though I do agree the “tortured genius” routine was a little cliched.)
      The thing at the end about homosexuality seemed relevant because the policy affected his life so much. I’m not sure what you mean by “the timing of the release.”
      The review you linked was very interesting though, I read it all.

      • They do oscars and other awards for the year in January. Lots of movies that are ‘fishing for awards’ try to release as close as possible to the award event in the hopes that the movie will be fresh in voters minds and more likely to win. This may just be coincidence for some movies, but I’m pretty sure many of them purposefully release at this time too.

        They may not describe it as a documentary, but they do call it a historical thriller. I don’t think you should be able to call it historical, as it is only loosely based on history. It’s just a thriller.

  3. Don’t mean to double post, but have you seen Saving Mr. Banks? I ended up not liking that movie for the same reasons I listed for The Imitation Game; the movie was so different from reality.

  4. I think somebody should write a computer program to figure out which had more historical inaccuracies: this movie, Selma, or American Sniper. They should all just start with “Some of this actually happened,” as American Hustle did.

    I think the point is what you say at the end — it’s “a work of fiction.” I have no problem with mixing fact and fiction in a word of art — the novel Mason & Dixon is a masterpiece, and it’s clear all the way through that it is not a reliable source of information about the real Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.

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