Alan Turing, the math genius who spearheaded Britain’s successful wartime campaign to crack Germany’s supposedly unbreakable Enigma code, is the tragic hero of The Imitation Game, ably directed by Morten Tyldum from a workmanlike script by Graham Moore.
Turing, portrayed to perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch, was an arrogant eccentric who beat the Germans at their own game, having invented a digital computing machine that outwitted Enigma, a devilishly complex device used by the Nazi high command to communicate orders to Germany’s armed forces.
Once Enigma was finally brought to heel, the Allies could anticipate German strategy and deal with it accordingly. As one of the characters in this competently-crafted film says, “Break the code and we have a chance to win the war.”
The Allies not only defeated Germany, but thanks to Turing and his team of driven and dedicated experts, camped in a country estate in southern Britain known as Bletchley Park, they shortened it by a full two years and saved the lives of an estimated 14 million people.
Despite Turing’s heroic contribution to the war effort, he was not repaid in kind. Indeed, he was betrayed. Accused after the war of the outmoded criminal offence of “gross indecency,” Turing, a homosexual, was chemically castrated in lieu of a prison sentence. Humiliated, degraded and cast aside ignominiously, he committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41.
What a loss.
Paying only peripheral attention to this profoundly sad aspect of his life, The Imitation Game focuses, as it should, on Turing’s feat of mathematical derring-do, while occasionally backtracking to his days as a brilliant, socially awkward student.
Turing relished the challenge of cracking the formidable German code, regarding it as “the most difficult puzzle in the world.” In conjunction with a group of linguists, intelligence officers and chess champions, he built what he described as an “electric brain” to outfox Enigma. In this sense, he was one of the founding fathers of the modern computer.
His immediate superior, a supercilious, old-school naval officer (Charles Dance), was skeptical of his scheme. And he even suspected Turing of being a Soviet mole. But Turing proved him spectacularly wrong as he conquered seemingly insurmountable technical problems.
In this herculean task, he was assisted by, among others, a gifted colleague named Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). The only woman in Bletchley Park, she gradually fell in love with Turing in spite of her suspicion that he was gay. Playing a woman who’s both beautiful and brainy, Knightley turns in a superior performance larded with wit and gravitas.
The Imitation Game reaches its climax when, in a eureka moment, Turing finally figures out what makes Enigma tick. By comparison, the rest of the movie seems somewhat pedestrian.
Cumberbatch, however, never lets up. A whirling dervish of curiosity, determination, energy and intelligence, he holds the film together in stellar fashion, backed up by a credible cast.
Its limitations notwithstanding, The Imitation Game is one of the better films about the Allied crusade to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II.