Movie review: The Imitation Game (2014)

Can a film do justice to the contributions of Alan Turing? Turing was the father of computer science and artificial intelligence and an expert in cryptography.

The title of the movie, The Imitation Game, is the name of the test Turing devised to determine if a computer can really think and imitate human thought. Explicitly though the movie is about Turing’s role in breaking the German code during World War II, but the movie delves into other areas through the computer he builds to break the code.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Turing as a socially inept, highly functioning genius. Flashbacks to a vital year in his childhood reveal his early intelligence and introduction to cryptography and code breaking thanks to the sole childhood friend he had.

The problem with breaking the German code during the war was that the Enigma machines used by the Germans reset every day to a new code. This, along with the number of possible combinations, meant that human effort to crack even one coded message would be impossible. A human was no match against such a machine. A machine was needed to battle the Enigma machines.

And thus Turing threw himself into building a computer to break the German code consistently and repeatedly. The name he gave to this computer was Christopher, the same name as the friend who introduced him to cryptography, the friend whom he realized that he loved romantically, the friend who suddenly died before he could share this realization.

The movie shows numerous twists and turns in the plot on the way to the inevitable breaking of the code by Christopher. The Imitation Game touches briefly on Turing’s later life, immediately before his death.

I wish that there had been more about what happened between the anticlimactic end to his government service following the end of the war and his death. But the point of the movie seems to be to focus on where his contribution to cryptography, computer science, and artificial intelligence intersected.

The Imitation Game is exceptionally well done. The acting is superb and the story well developed. My only complaint is that I want more…and for the ending to have been different for Turing.

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