Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Imitation Game

by Pa Rock
Movie Aficionado

I had the opportunity while in Kansas City to see an exceptional new movie.  The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch - my favorite Sherlock.   Both the film and the star are certain to win some big awards and honors this year.

Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the late British mathematician and college professor who successfully led the effort in World War II to defeat the German code machine, Enigma - a device which at the time was thought to produce codes which were unbreakable.  While some of Turing's associates tried to solve the problem by cracking the codes (which were changed daily), Turing's response was to work at creating a machine which could compete with Enigma, machine versus machine, and quickly translate each day's code.  His ultimate success was the forerunner of modern computers.

Alan Turing called his machine "Christopher."

Historians estimate that the efforts of Alan Turing and his crew of scientists, mathematicians, and puzzle-solvers, shortened the war by at least two years.  The project was so extremely secret that the governments of Britain and the United States did not even acknowledge its existence until just a couple of years ago.

The story of Alan Turning and his amazing machine would have been plenty by itself for a good movie.  The Imitation Game, goes further than just that, however.  The story is overlaid with a portrait of Turing's personal life.  The young man was a deeply closeted homosexual at a time when such a lifestyle was not only socially forbidden, but a serious crime as well.   After the war, just a couple of years after Alan Turing was instrumental in helping to save Great Britain from Nazi domination, he was arrested and charged with "gross indecency" (the catch-all charge used against gay men).  He was found guilty and offered a choice between two-years in prison (the same sentence British writer Oscar Wilde has received for the same offense fifty years earlier) or chemical castration.  Turing chose chemical castration so that he could remain free and continue working on his machine, Christopher.

Benedict Cumberbatch is an extraordinarily fine actor and gives a solid performance throughout the movie.  That said, his rendition of Alan Turing as he suffered the physical effects of the chemical castration was riveting, as enthralling as anything I've ever witnessed - in real life or on celluloid.  His performance had "Oscar" written all over it!

The other standout performer in this movie also played Alan Turing.   Alex Lawther as young Alan Turing, a student at boarding school, showed a startling depth and range as the brilliant but troubled student who was continually bullied and put upon by his classmates.

Alan Turing took his own life as a result of his emotional struggles with the effects of the chemical castration.  Queen Elizabeth issued a royal pardon for Alan Turing in 2013.

The Imitation Game is a pair of stories woven together and told in a very compelling manner.  It is history that has been hidden for decades - but history which needs to be examined and understood.  The story of scientific ingenuity marshaling its resources and defeating Enigma needs to be known and celebrated.  It shows us the importance of science and math - and learning.  The story of an overly moralistic society destroying one of its greatest thinkers over his sexual preferences also needs to be known - and never, never repeated.

The world has made significant technological advances since the time of Alan Turing, much of it based on his work and ideas.  And fortunately for all of us, the world, or at least much of the world, is far more accepting than it was back them.  Change comes slowly, but it does come.

See this movie.  It is far better than my awkward attempt at a review.

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