The Imitation Game 2014

Author: Andrew Hodges
Book: Alan Turing: The Enigma

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The Imitation Game is an upcoming historical drama film about British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist Alan Turing, a key figure in cracking Nazi Germany's Enigma code that helped the Allies win World War II, who was later criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality.

It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and is directed by Morten Tyldum with a screenplay by Graham Moore, based on the biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

It took a man with secrets... to…more

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Silvio111 I have read up to page 330 in the 700 book by Andrew Hodges that The Imitation Game is purportedly based on. The book is chronological, and so, having reached approximately 1943 in the events covered, I think it is safe to compare, for instance, Turing's school days, and also how he met and eventually broke up with Joan Clarke. The movie makes some substantial departures and inventions from and to Hodges' account.

I thought Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley did an excellent job of portraying their characters. But the script writer definitely took some liberties. For instance:

Turing's schoolboy relationship with his "first love," Christopher Morcom, in his public school, Sherbourne, is portrayed as a sappy puppy love, with Turing gazing doe-eyed at the 3-years older Christopher. In fact, although there was an age difference, and Turing did (very) privately adore Christopher, the bulk of their interaction occurred with discussions of math, physics, and astronomy. The incident of being nailed under the floorboards of the schoolroom was pure Hollywood. Turing's denial to the headmaster that he knew Morcom was also not mentioned by Hodges.

Turing and Joan Clarke's relationship was a comradely one, according to Hodges, with them taking a bicycling holiday in Wales, during which Turing considered the configuration of the leaves and petals of daisies, which led him to one of his mathematical breakthroughs (involving the "Fibonacci code," which I am not equipped to comment on, being a humanities type myself.) The manner of their breakup did not involve Turing declaring cruelly that he had "never loved her." In fact, according to Hodges, he quoted a poem by Oscar Wilde containing the lines, "Each man kills the thing he loves; ... the coward does it with a kiss; the brave man with a sword," after which he plainly told her that he was gay and could never make a marriage with her work. According to Turing, he managed to break up without rejecting her personally, and though painful, they remained civil and eventually friends.

The departure I am most willing to forgive is the telescoping of time that was necessary for the Bletchley team to break the enigma code. It is spotlighted in the script charmingly when one of the "secretarial" WRNS (Female navy members) comments that one of the German senders of communications always starts his messages with the letter code, "Cilly," leading her to think he has a girlfriend. Turing has an epiphany that leads them to use the daily weather transmissions as code breakers because they all contain the three words, "weather," "Heil," and "Hitler" However, in Hodges' (exhausting) explanation, there are weeks and months of analyzing "probable words" and recurring letters to bring this revelation to fruition.

The final thing missing from the film is a fuller description of Turing's last years leading from his conviction to his suicide. Since I have not read Hodge's writing about this yet, I will reserve comment, but I do think it was an odd decision not to show his suicide. Perhaps the director just did not have the heart.

As I left the theater, a young man was standing on the sidewalk in tears. He said to me, "I'm gay, and I just can't imagine what he went through. It was so unfair."

I myself still find it hard to believe that the British government did not apologize to him or acknowledge his role in the war until 2013! I also find it interesting that Andrew Hodges was one of the screenwriters of the early BBC television movie about Turing, "Breaking the Code" starring Sir Derek Jacobi. That account did portray his end days and his suicide on screen.

Sir Derek Jacobi's Turing was a bit more crusty than Cumberbatch's is. It is worth watching both.


Silvio111 If you watch the earlier 1996 BBC TV movie, BREAKING THE CODE, you get to see a deeper characterization of Turing, although less of the Bletchley Park plot. Jacobi delivered Turing's stammer, as well as a warmer personality; whereas Cumberbatch, in The Imitation Game, projected a more barricaded persona.

Both are very interesting, but I think the Jacobi characterization telegraphs the issue of the injustice to gays that the British laws enforced.

You can see BREAKING THE CODE on youtube.


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