The Imitation Game

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly, The Imitation Game is about Alan Turning and others who worked at Bletchley Park in England during World War II. Their work primarily focused on breaking the German Enigma Code, which was eventually broken with the help of a machine created by Turning. There are flashbacks to Turing’s time in school and his time at Bletchley Park is told by Turing to a police officer when he’s arrested in 1951 for “gross indecency” because he was a gay man. He later died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning, which had been ruled a suicide.

If you remove all expectations that the movie will be historically accurate and anything other than completely sensationalized by Hollywood, then the movie is pretty decent. I knew very little about Turing and his work before seeing the movie for the first time and initially found most of the story to be gripping and emotional. The movie is good for the most part but once I started to reflect and read more about Turing, there are some things that didn’t quite sit well with me. And it’s not that Alan Turing’s life was boring in any sort of way but there’s just something about the movie that didn’t seem quite right for me as an audience member. Joe Morgenstern put it well in his review of the movie for the Wall Street Journal by saying that:

“It’s a marvelous story about science and humanity, plus a great performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, plus first-rate filmmaking and cinematography, minus a script that muddles its source material to the point of betraying it. Those strengths make the movie worth seeing, but the writing keeps eating away at the narrative’s clarity—and integrity—until it’s impossible to separate the glib fictions from the remarkable facts.”

If you like historical accuracy, I definitely recommend reading Christian Caryl’s review of the movie for The New York Review (“A Poor Imitation of Alan Turing”). Actually I recommend reading this regardless; Caryl points out the ways in which the movie fails to capture the actual nature of the story and of Turing himself. It was reading this review that really made me rethink what I thought of the film, including how the film treated Turing’s relationship with his childhood crush (which seemed exceptionally overdone and exaggerated).

Ultimately, if you’re able to divorce historical accuracy/expectation and realize that the movie is done well enough by Hollywood standards, then I recommend seeing it. (Do be ready for a completely white cast though.) And I did appreciate the fact that the movie highlighted the fact that there were thousands and thousands of gay men who were prosecuted and criminalized for being gay in Britain. But having seeing The Imitation Game twice now, I might passively see it again in the future but I’ll probably just pick up one of his biographies if I want more of Alan Turing in my life.

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