The Imitation Game

Posted on December 4, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Wartime violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, homophobia, suicide
Date Released to Theaters: November 21, 2014
Date Released to DVD: March 30, 2015 ASIN: B00RY85CQI
Copyright 2014 The Weinstein Company
Copyright 2014 The Weinstein Company

Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician with an enormous intellect, an almost equally enormous ego, and an almost equally enormous secret. He was one of the founding thinkers behind modern computing and it is his name that we use for the test that determines whether a computer has achieved true artificial intelligence status. The Turing test standard is human conversation. If a human cannot tell whether he or she is communicating with a person or a computer, than the program has passed the Turing test and is true artificial intelligence.

I’m not sure that Alan Turing could have passed the Turing test. Cumberbatch, who also plays a super-smart, arrogant, and obnoxious guy in “Sherlock,” creates a very different character here. Turing himself is an Enigma. In the opening scene, a sort of job interview nightmare in which Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) is trying to interview Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) for a spot on the team working at the famous Bletchley Park estate to break the code the Germans were using to send orders to their troops. If passing as human means meeting even the most minimal standards of civility and responsiveness, Turing failed that interview. He seemed to think that it was he who was interviewing Denniston to determine whether the task was of sufficient interest and import to merit his attention.

Denniston begins to dismiss him. But when Denniston says that everyone thinks the code, known as Enigma, is unbreakable, Turing says briskly, “Let me try, and then we’ll know for sure.” Denniston does not have a better idea or a better option.

The German code is unbreakable because it is constantly changing, so by the time any one message has been decrypted, whatever was learned could not be applied to whatever comes next. The Allies are perpetually behind. [The process, complicated as it is, has been simplified for the purposes of the movie, glossing over the important work done by Polish mathematicians, the contributions of the French, and the challenges faced as the Germans continued to make the Enigma more complicated and impenetrable as the war continued.) While a bunch of brilliant mathematicians, scientists, and puzzle-solvers (including Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightley) worked away, Turning realized not only that what made the code unbreakable was the inability of any then-existing computational mechanism to perform enough calculations fast enough to decrypt the messages before the code was reconfigured the next morning, but that he could create a machine to do it.

We know how it turned out. But director Morten Tyldum keeps the story gripping on several levels. First, there is the conflict between Turing and just about everyone, and the pressure for immediate results as he is spending a lot of time (years) and money on something no one has ever seen before. Second, there are the interpersonal struggles, and Turning’s internal difficulties. He did want intimacy, and we see in his memories of his first love, a boy at his school. He likes Joan, and is briefly engaged to her. But he was gay at a time when being gay was punishable by prison. Then there are other kinds of secrets. One of the people working on breaking the code may be a spy. And once the code is broken, the Allies have the wrenchingly painful decision about what to do with the information. It’s not just a puzzle. It is statecraft, and terrible compromises and terrible losses are part of the job.

The film adds some unnecessary drama and oversimplifies parts of the story. But it is a powerful, complex drama and a long-overdue tribute to a true hero and visionary.

Parents should know that this film includes wartime themes and images, some disturbing, wrenching moral choices, betrayal, the pressures of being a closeted homosexual when it was a crime, drinking, smoking, and some sexual references.

Family discussion: Do you agree with the decision to withhold the news that the code had been broken? To allow the mole to keep spying?

If you like this, try: Read up on the history of the codebreakers at Bletchley (The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park, Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-boat Codes, 1939-1943) as well as those in Poland and the spies who helped them get the information they needed and try some online version of the Turing Test.

Related Tags:


Based on a true story Biography Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week War

6 Replies to “The Imitation Game”

  1. It finally got to us! My son and husband saw it tonight. They both really liked the movie. My husband liked it more than “The Theory of Everything.” I’m not sure they are comparable, but that was his announcement when he got home! They were both touched by the tragedy of his personal story interwoven with the drama of the code-cracking and war events.

  2. Just saw this and really liked it. I thought Benedict Cumberbatch really inhabited his character.

    This link is pretty funny re Benedict Cumberbatch

    The only thing i would add is that some folks may find the bullying scenes a bit intense..

  3. We saw this film this past weekend. Both heartbreaking and inspiring. I thought it was some of Keira Knightley’s best work. I also thought the young man who played the young Turing was very good.

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