Films: The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

I knew I would love The Imitation Game even before I saw it. I’ve been working with computers for half a century. Back in the 1960s, they were still often called Turing Machines in honor of the perverse mathematical genius who almost single-handedly invented the first digital computer, code-named Christopher.

Ironically, what brought Turing down were England’s anti-homosexuality laws. Given a choice between prison and a regimen of hormonal drugs to “cure” him, he chose the latter. Within a couple of years, frustrated by the drugs’ effect on his intellect and libido, Turing finally committed suicide in 1956, a scant nine years before I started working on my first computer, a GE 600 series at Dartmouth College, using the world’s first timesharing system and the world’s first higher-order programming language, BASIC.

As you may know, I don’t see too many current films, especially when they are of the self-indulgent “indie” variety. The Imitation Game, on the other hand, is about a man whose way of thinking and feeling is radically different from most of us. And yet he is one of the greatest geniuses of the Twentieth Century, along with Einstein, Von Neumann, Szilard, Teller, Oppenheimer, and a handful of others.

I liked The Imitation Game so much that I intend the read the biography by Andrew Hodges on which it based, Alan Turing: The Enigma. Enigma was the code name of the cryptography machine the Nazis used during World War Two for all their most top secret communications. Turing and his assistants not only cracked the code, but did it in such a way that the Germans could not know that the code was cracked—so they continued using it throughout the war.

Benedict Cumberbatch was superb as the code-breaker, as was Keira Knightley as his talented assistant.