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.