‘The Imitation Game’: Decoding a complex man


To my mind, “The Imitation Game” is the best film of the year: a gripping tale of wartime espionage and code-breaking that also manages to be the character study of an important figure whose contributions have been ignominiously ignored.

Morten Tyldum’s film tells the story of Alan Turing, played with vulnerable sangfroid by Benedict Cumberbatch. A genius with limited social skills and a secret about his sexuality, he was the head brain on England’s effort to crack Germany’s Enigma code. Though England had managed to steal one of Germany’s Enigma machines, it had no way to crack a code that could contain millions of variations and was changed every day.

But the film is bookended by a post-war episode in Turing’s life: an arrest in the early 1950s that led to a conviction for homosexuality, illegal in England until the mid-1970s. Secrets seem to permeate Turing’s life, both personal and professional.

As a Cambridge math professor, he was recruited by MI6 to join a team of cryptographers at Bletchley Park, to break the code sent out each day by the Germans, in messages detailing their ship, submarine and troop movements. England had been particularly badly hurt by German U-boats, which regularly picked off supply ships headed for Great Britain from the U.S. and Canada.

The British regularly intercepted the German messages, but, at the point that Turing is recruited, have not been able to discern their meaning. Turing, who was already working on some of the earliest manifestations of computers, decides that the only thing that can match wits with the Enigma machine is another machine, of his own invention.

But the obstacles facing him include a team that doesn’t believe in his ideas and doesn’t particularly like him because of the superior attitude he makes no effort to disguise.

This review continues on my website.

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