The Imitation Game
Only rarely has one man done so
much for so many, and yet gone so completely unrecognized for it in his
Allen Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch)
math professor when World War II broke out.
When he heard about the government advertising
for a cryptologist, he immediately applied, because even as a little boy, he
loved solving puzzles. He
even created his own secret code with his best friend at boarding school.
He’s one of those tortured
geniuses who knew he was smarter than everybody else, but he didn’t suffer
fools gladly, and becoming an adult didn’t help his emotional maturity,
was still downright offensive to people, and haughtily condescending to those
whom he considered his intellectual inferiors, which was, well, pretty much
He very nearly didn’t get chosen
because he was such an insufferable egotist, even to the interviewer.
When he’s introduced to the others who were
hired along with him, he immediately dismisses them as second-rate minds who
will only slow him down if he has to work with them.
The only one he really gets along with is the
only woman, Joan (Keira Knightley), who apparently possesses a beautiful mind,
but her parents are more worried about the fact that she’s 25 and still
almost don’t allow her to participate in the
compound, because, well, it wouldn’t be “decorous” for a
young lady to keep constant company with all those men.
But Turing was nothing if not
persistent; he even feigns romantic interest in her to satisfy her parents.
Of course Turing realized he was homosexual, but
he lived in a time and place where it was still not only considered
“indecent,” but criminal.
His “outing” would result in his immediate
dismissal from the project, a prospect which terrified him, because breaking
the Enigma code had become his personal obsession.
The Germans had developed the
complex code, and distributed special machines to convey it, early on in the
War, and were confident, because of the statistical unlikelihood that any
person could figure out the literally millions of possible permutations, that
it was “unbreakable.”
Especially because they changed the code every
day, precisely at midnight.
So the Bletchley cryptographers were spending
inordinately laborious hours every day, for naught, and were becoming
And so were their superiors, who threatened to
just trash the whole project as too impractical.
But Turing was really thinking
outside the box, or more precisely, about a box.
He was busy developing a computing machine that
could process the data much faster than the humans, but it was slow going,
because he was literally having to assemble it himself, circuit by circuit,
while everyone else laughed at him, snubbed him, or accused him of
non-cooperation with the others.
He ignored them all.
He could not be deterred, even when his lab was
ransacked by British soldiers, armed with the false charge of spying for the
Russians. (Actually, it was another one of the workers there who was handing
secrets to Stalin, but somebody in MI6 decided that it needed to be done, in
order to assist their important Ally, and surreptitiously, to do an end run
around Churchill, who hated Stalin and wouldn’t give him the time of day.)
The big break came, actually,
because of human error: one of the Nazi radio operators apparently decided,
against orders, to start each day’s message the same way, as a kind of
personal signature, which provided the one clue they needed to reduce the
limitless possibilities, and thus help solve the Enigma.
Now the struggle became how to hold on to the
secret that they had broken the German code, balancing between saving lives
and not alerting the enemy.
But that’s another story.
This one is extraordinarily well told, with
Cumberbatch portraying the tortured genius Turing in an Oscar-worthy
it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish
Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,