The Imitation Game

I had looked forward to The Imitation Game for a while, hearing the good reviews and the Oscar whispers. Plus there’s nothing like a limited theatrical release that gives the mouse-dangling-in-front-of-cat effect, making us crave what we cannot have. Well, now we have it, as The Imitation Game has hit wide release. My two math-nerd friends and I had made a pact that we would see it together and, a few weeks ago, that oath came to fruition. The anticipation was well worth it, too. The Imitation Game brought 2014 to a close with a (finally) powerful and inspiring movie. We have seen few of those this year and it’s nice to know that the silver screen still has some heart and soul.

One of my concerns going into the film was that Hollywood would do to this math and science movie what Hollywood often does to math and science movies, which is dumb it down to the point that most actual mathematicians laugh at the fact that it’s too basic and unbelievable, or it’s just plain wrong. My friends, who I saw the movie with, are a Computer Science major and a Statistician with a Mathematics degree. So, I knew that if there were any mathematical flaws in the film, they would be quick to point it out (complaining about bad math in movies is a favorite pastime among Mathematicians). Their biggest complaint seemed to be Keira Knightley’s pronunciation of Euler, however. Not so bad.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing as a cold, impersonal puzzle-solving genius, who cares about little more than the thrill of solving a challenging problem. Turing accepts a position at Britain’s Government Code and Cypher School to help break Germany’s Enigma code during World War II, a secret project that he leads with a small team. In the film, Turing quickly alienates himself from the rest of his group due to his egotism and unusual interpersonal skills. Cumberbatch plays his character like a more awkward version of Sherlock with less likable qualities. Turing’s over-the-top strangeness brings humor to the film and we get a number of scenes with him ostracizing his coworkers, then eventually attempting to win them over in amusing ways. This is basically the only humorous part the film.

Director Morten Tyldum weaves through the past, present, and way-past of the story. The present being after World War II, when Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear) arrests Turing for sleeping with another man and Turing reveals the story of the his work on cracking the Enigma code. The film also goes back to Turing’s boyhood and the development of his relationship with a childhood friend, a boy who takes pity on him after Turing is mercilessly bullied by other boys.

To be honest, this structure used for the telling of the story was one of the low points of the movie. For some reason it has become common place to tell stories on film non-linearly… thanks, Tarantino. This seems to be more common for dramatic character-driven tales. Why can’t they just start the thing at the beginning and end it at the end? Although this is, genuinely, my biggest complaint about the film.

Turing’s homosexuality is touched on in the film, but not a major plot point. Turing’s sexuality mainly comes into play with his dealings with the detective in the story’s present. The film also discusses Turing’s unfortunate chemical castration, which I have to say, was a process I was previously unfamiliar with. The film depicts Turing as a man with a life filled with hardship, the highlight of his life being his work cracking Enigma, although he had about ten years of work after that.

The Imitation Game illustrates Alan Turing’s remarkable work with the Britain’s Government Code and Cypher School as well as highlighting other portions of his life. The film is brilliantly shot and Cumberbatch’s performance brings life to this mysterious man. It also gives us an opportunity to learn about one of the first computers and the development of computing. Hopefully we will see more films to come where math and science are integral to the story.

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