The Heroic and Sad Tale of Alan Turing

Director: MORTEN TYLDUM/2014

During World War II, the Germans had developed an intense code machine called Enigma, which helped them coordinate attacks all over the world without that intelligence being found out by the Allied Powers. Germany would change the cypher each day and so any gains the Allied forces made on cracking the German codes were rendered useless by midnight.

Desperate to learn the German code so that they could decipher all of the many intercepted messages they had on file, the British Intelligence agencies sought out some of the greatest minds to see if such a code could be cracked. It was a monumental task that no one was actually equipped to do.

Alan Turing was a different sort of man. As a mathematician, logician, and cryptologist, Turing was not as interested in stopping Nazi Germany as a soldier, but was more interested in solving the puzzle of the Enigma machine itself. The fact that it would save lives was an added bonus, but to truly challenge himself, he was more driven to beat the puzzle of Enigma.

While others on his team at Britain’s famed Bletchley Park were wrapped up in solving the German cypher each day so as to translate German communications, Turing took the long approach of coming up with a machine that could decipher the Enigma code, not just each day, but every single day.

In The Imitation Game, we get a look at the story of the real life figure, Alan Turing, played brilliantly by Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, 12 Years a Slave, Star Trek Into Darkness). Turing was as mysterious as the Enigma at times. Using a difficult crossword puzzle in the paper as a recruitment tool, Turing locates Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley), a woman with a brilliant mind who is also struggling with her own issues.

Given the time period, the idea of a woman working with a male team was out of the question for both her parents, as well as those at Bletchley Park. To allow her parents to let her move there to work, she had to secure housing with a female, as well as work at Bletchley Park with the female support team. On the side she would go and help Turing and his hand picked team in their quest to build the machine that would break Enigma.

The Imitation Game is one of three bio-pics coming out on Christmas Day, joining both Unbroken and Big Eyes. Of the three, The Imitation Game is the more satisfying film. While Unbroken tries to appeal to everyone and loses some of its power, and while Big Eyes is compelling but average, The Imitation Game is able to operate on several levels at a time.

On one hand, it is a compelling true-life, race against time suspense film. On the other it is a complex look at the lives of these men and woman and the cultural barriers that are in place hindering their helping to break the Nazi code. With Joan Clarke the cultural barriers include dealing with the notion of where a woman belongs when it comes to work, dating, and relationship roles. It is also a biography of a man who was a genius.

With Turing, the cultural barriers had to do with sexual orientation, and his social awkwardness when working with others. Turing, apparently, did not have a smooth way about him, and tended to make his fellow co-workers mad at him. He was brutally honest in any assessment, and quite literal when given instructions. Cumberbatch is able to smooth some of Turing’s rougher edges, as well as keep him just as awkward to watch as his co-workers felt when working with him. His sexual orientation is more of the focus when it comes to cultural barriers. In this case, it was what almost brought his entire project to a complete stop.

While most of the film is an enjoyable experience, the closing text will alienate some as the film stops being a compelling film about a brilliant man who was almost stopped from winning the war by beating the Nazi code to being a poster child for how homosexuals are, and have been treated. While that is a subject for another film, the tone of the closing text seems to be a bit heavy handed given the way things were dealt with in the film. Just closing things out with a brief epilogue would suffice.

That aside, Alan Turing and his contributions to science, and especially computer science are worthy of a major motion picture, and Benedict Cumberbatch does him proud. On the whole, The Imitation Game is a strong, entry in an otherwise crowded Christmas Day release schedule.