Film review: The Imitation Game (2014)

I had avoided watching this film about the life of Alan Turing and his work on the Enigma project during World War II, even though it got good reviews and starred two good actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

One reason applies in general to films based on true events where I am somewhat familiar with the story because of my concern with historical accuracy. I know that such films should not be viewed as documentaries but since so much is true, it is hard to prevent the fictionalized elements from seeping into one’s consciousness and distorting one’s perceptions, since film is such a powerful medium for creating lasting impressions

The second reason in this particular case is that I knew that I would get angry at the shameful way that Turing was treated because of his sexual orientation, which was a crime at the time in the UK.

I watched the film anyway and I have to admit that despite those caveats, it was a good film and I am glad that I did so. It did distort history in many ways, such as by exploiting the eccentric mathematical genius stereotype and portraying Turing to be extremely socially awkward and alienating when in real life he was apparently quite a friendly and popular person.

The film did address in some detail a question that I had that is often overlooked about the consequences of breaking the Enigma code. It immediately made it possible for the Allied forces to counter German plans. But doing so to all their plans would mean that the Germans would realize that their code had been broken and they would shift to a different coding system.

So the strategy that was adopted (at least according to the film) was to only take actions that would look to the Germans as if the Allies had thwarted their attack more or less by chance so that they would continue to use Enigma. This required picking and choosing who on their own side would suffer an attack and die and who would be saved, an agonizing calculus for those involved.

Wars are such a barbaric way of resolving conflicts among nations.

Here’s the trailer for the film.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    …portraying Turing to be extremely socially awkward and alienating…

    Maybe Cumberbatch could portray Paul Dirac.

    One story about Dirac is that on meeting Richard Feynman, he was lost for words, and finally tried the conversational gambit “I have an equation; do you have one too?”.

  2. Johnny Vector says

    The issue of leaking information by the use of the intercepted and decoded messages also features prominently in Neal Stephenson’s book Cryptonomicon. One primary thread of the book involves a group whose job it is to deceive the Germans into thinking the code hasn’t been broken. So they do things like sending out spotter planes on a pattern that just happens to cover the area where a big German convoy is, to provide an alternate explanation for how the Allies know the info. I don’t know how much of that was actually done, but it seems like a pretty obvious ploy.

  3. Mano Singham says

    Actually, that is a good idea. Cumberbatch could do a great Dirac who really was awkward. The book The Strangest Man is really good.

  4. Steve Gerrard says

    My understanding, though it could just be legend, was that Churchill was informed of the imminent bombing of Coventry, but had to let it happen, without giving any warnings, to protect the big secret. If that’s what it took to make D-Day successful, I guess it was worth it.

  5. flex says

    I had been avoiding it for similar reasons (as well as Cumberbatch burnout), but when I heard the soundtrack on the radio I had to give it a shot.

    I know it’s not the usual reason to see a film, but I’m becoming a big fan of Alexandre Desplat’s film scores. I first noticed it in the quirky Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom, but he also did the score to The Grand Budapest Hotel. The music was very complimentary to the film while also being distinctive. Quirky without being distracting.

    I also thought the climax, where the insight into how to crack Enigma occurred at the same time the realization that they couldn’t use every bit of intel they got, was very well written. The film was not really historically accurate, but the film was fairly well done and the overall message of the horrifying calculus of war was presented fairly. It made the title far more meaningful with the need for secrecy in war balanced against the lessons of the Turning character’s need for secrecy in his personal life.

  6. raym says

    You might consider watching Codebreaker (also from 2014), which deals with Turing the person rather than with his work on Enigma.

  7. says

    I don’t know if I want to see “Imitation”but I’ve seen “Breaking The Code” (1996, starring Derek Jacobi) which showed Turing in a very human light, focusing on his personal troubles with a bigoted and ungrateful government.

    And who said only the Soviet Union was capable or guilty of turning on and cannibalizing their heroes of World War II?

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