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The Imitation Game

Alan Turing’s secret feeds his genius and downfall


Benedict Cumberbatch The Weinstein Company

The Imitation Game
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Decades before Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, British mathematician Alan Turing pioneered the modern computer. Why has almost no one heard of him? Partly because British intelligence used his invention to crack the top-secret Enigma code during World War II. And partly because, in 1952, the British government arrested him for homosexuality.

The Imitation Game focuses on both aspects of Turing’s life in a well-written film with one unsurprising flaw: It’s now politically correct, obligatory even, to push homosexuality as a personal preference. (While there is no sex onscreen, frank discussions of sexuality and historical smoking gave this film a PG-13 rating.)

From the beginning, the film plays like a puzzle viewers must piece together, as director Morten Tyldum seamlessly switches among scenes from Turing’s youth, career during the war, and life afterward. The main plot centers on Turing’s work to crack the Enigma code, a German machine that encrypted messages during World War II. Turing and his small team of mathematical geniuses must struggle to unravel the code each day before the Enigma machine resets itself at midnight.

The film succeeds in establishing Turing’s race against the clock. When a secret agent explains the Enigma machine, he asks Turing, “Do you know how many died because of it? Three, while we’ve been having this conversation.” Period film footage and montages of warfare add to the stakes—Turing’s work has the potential to save lives and end the war.

Tyldum said in a post-screening interview that he gathered his top picks for the cast and crew, and he chose well. Benedict Cumberbatch brings his trademark Sherlock intensity to Turing, an awkward mathematician with an endearing lack of humor. Unlike his co-workers, Turing sees that he will never unlock the Enigma code unless he invents a machine that thinks faster than any human. No one—including viewers—realizes Turing’s deepest secret until much later.

“Alan Turing was someone who saw the world differently from everyone else because he was pushed out; he was sort of separate from society,” first-time screenwriter Graham Moore told me during an interview after the screening. He and Tyldum agree the film is about isolation, and how Turing’s secrets kept him from opening up to others.

But Moore blames Turing’s isolation on 1940s morality. Nearly all the speaking characters who know Turing’s secret support him, while the faceless government cracks down on his homosexuality. The film rather blatantly suggests that governmental intolerance ruined Turing.

Joan Clark (Keira Knightley), the only woman on Turing’s team, shows the opposite of Turing’s self-absorption, supporting him as a friend. Turing’s team also bands together at key moments to support his mission. Yet Turing cuts himself off from everyone.

The Imitation Game’s British charm and politically correct subject matter have earned film festival acclaim, and critics are already predicting several Oscar nominations. But I would have appreciated this film more if it gave full disclosure on the tragic side of Turing’s life choice rather than easy accusations about society’s intolerance.

—Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette is a WORLD intern in Virginia


Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette Rikki is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD contributor.

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