The Imitation Game

Alan Turing, codebreaking, Bletchley Park


Eagerly awaited general release of The Imitation Game (trailer), starring Benedict Cumberbatch in a superb bit of acting, and was not disappointed. The story, hidden for almost 30 years, is by now familiar—Alan Turing, the brilliant but eccentric Oxford student admitted to Bletchley Park’s code-breaking team, figures out how to decrypt messages generated by the Nazis’ super-secret Enigma machine, shortening WWII by two years, and, oh, by the way, inventing computers in the process.

Last month Andrew Hodges, author of the book the movie’s based on, was in town for a talk—a bit dazed about this great success 30 years post-publication—and his insights (summarized here) were, frankly, helpful. He powerfully described the homophobia that pervaded the British intelligence services (and society in general) in the 1950’s that made Turing a target. Also the greater significance of the apples, alluded to only glancingly in the movie and without context. Turing was fascinated with the Snow White story, and saying more drifts into spoiler territory.

I earnestly hope someone said to him what Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) says near the end of this film. Clarke responds to Turing’s lifelong struggle with being different from other boys and men, and says how he “saved millions of lives by never fitting in,” as Tom Long put it in The Detroit News. Or, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine,” says the movie’s tagline.

There’s a little too much standing in front of the marvelous prop constructed for the movie, which the producer says is like the original Turing machine, just not in a box, so you can see the works. The secondary characters are thinly developed and no doubt worthy of greater interest. However, the scenes of Turing as a young boy (Alex Lawther), trying to come to terms with his differentness, are heartbreaking. Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 89%; audience score 95%.

2 thoughts on “The Imitation Game

  1. Nice review. Alan Turing was one of the great mind of the 20th Century, up there with Einstein, Russell, Goedel, Hawking and Feynman.

    There are a few clarifications that need to be made: (1) Turing “invented” Computer Science, not an actual general purpose computer and (2) The Enigma decoder was not The Turing Machine–the abstract General Purpose Computer a very simple construct. (

    Also it should be noted that while Turing was creating the theoretical foundations of Computer Science in the 30’s, Stephen Cole Kleene was developing the theory of recursive functions which are mathematical expressions of computations while the Turing Machine is a mechanized representation, albeit abstract also, of computations.

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