The Imitation Game

Now I have the right to write about The Imitation Game, which I saw in the theaters last night.

Spoiler alert.

images Those of you who read my post about Alan Turing will remember that I expected this portrayal to come across as Sherlock II, and I have to say it mostly did, except Cumberbatch makes Turing into a much more sympathetic character than Sherlock. Think: genius with Aspergers, add childhood bullying, subtract sociopath. I have to admit, I like Cumberbatch better as a “high-functioning sociopath.” And I highly doubt Turing was as socially clueless as he appears in the movie. I also suspect that he wasn’t as closeted a homosexual as the movie made him seem. Not to mention the feminist reinterpretation of Joan Clarke, a woman who was in reality described as  “subordinate to the men in her life.”

But I’m getting off on the wrong track here. So what if the movie’s not historically accurate? We all knew that. For a good critique of the film from the accuracy perspective, see this. The real question is, was it good?

Like the documentary, Codebreaker, I felt there was a lot of detail withheld about what exactly Turing accomplished…but Codebreaker actually did a better job in getting down to the nitty gritty. How did Turing and the crew at Bletchley Park crack the Enigma machine? We know he built some kind of gigantic computer with lots of reels spinning (who knew what these were for) and this computer was supposed to sift through millions of possible codes before the stroke of midnight, at which time it would have to start anew. There was a Hollywood “ah ha” moment in which the details of how the machine might work faster were sketchily drawn, and no more. I would have appreciated more. Of course, such technical detail could not be expected of this kind of film, so I wasn’t too disappointed.

The real disappointment set in when the philosophical stuff about AI was mostly disregarded. When it was addressed, it was totally flubbed. I actually did have high hopes that this aspect of the story would be competently developed, at least as much as Hollywood can do—somewhat along the lines of Her. But no.

In the movie, Turing names his computer Christopher, which suggests Turing saw potential to resurrect his childhood boyfriend as a computer mind. But it’s never made clear what Turing’s beliefs about AI were. Instead we get a few clumsy lines about different kinds of thinking, none of which made sense. This is too bad. There was a moment at the end when Turing reaches out for his computer adoringly, but this wasn’t enough for me. I needed to know why. I needed to see what Turing saw, beyond those clunky spinning reels.

The oddest thing was that Turing’s dramatic death was left virtually untouched. At the end of the movie, we find out that Turing committedUnknown suicide. This is not dramatized at all. No mention of the cyanide apple, even though cyanide was mentioned several times in the film as if to foreshadow the ending. Why the reluctance to use such rich, possibly real-life material? Well, here’s the reason why: It seemed melodramatic, goofy. Goofy? Okay, I can see why ending with a shot of an apple would seem goofy, but really? No way around that? Why not a flash forward into the future where we see everyone working on computers on which we notice a certain familiar logo? I understand that the focus of the movie was on his homosexual persecution rather than on his impact on computer science, but even so, what about the metaphorical significance of the death? Adam and Eve references! This was one of the few times when Hollywood could get away with melodrama…because it was true! How can so much wonderful material be left to, um, rot?

So on the whole, I’d say it’s worth the watch, especially in comparison to what’s out there, but somewhat disappointing. If you have no great desire to head to the theaters, wait for it to come out on DVD. Besides, you’ll get to miss the hoards of people driving around to return Christmas presents—another worthwhile reason to stay home. Trust me on this one. I had a crazy encounter at the mall with a woman who decided it was okay to strip naked in the ladies room to cleanse her privates in public. In full glory in front of a mirror too. And in front of the sink I needed to wash my hands. No more details, I promise. Just stay home this week.

Maybe real life is too dramatic to fictionalize. The truth: No one would believe it.

Have you seen this movie? Or Codebreaker? What did you think? 

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19 thoughts on “The Imitation Game

  1. I love films; let me just get that out there.

    You completely blew my mind with the apple references. I cannot believe (I actually can, but that’s beside the point) that Hollywood would miss the opportunity to tell us all about Apple’s possible homage to the suicide of one of the most brilliant minds in history, or even write in just a couple of references to Eve in Eden. I know this is no film with Nicholas Cage (exhibit A, “Knowing” – 2009) but jeez, what a missed opportunity to enlighten the public (exhibits B and C “National Treasure” and “National Treasure 2” – 2004 and 2007) on ‘unknown’ history. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but if it is anything like “Milk” I know I will like it. There is just something about a good Hollywood washed-down version of reality that brings actual history to life (consider how in “The Help” the Civil Rights movement seems to have been started by a single white woman – Emma Stone, 2011) . You have made me quite curious about this film, so I will have to watch “The Imitation Game” and let you know whar I found. Just have to catch “Interstellar” first.

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      • Mr. Cage is a bit nutty, but I think yiu will appreciate “Knowing” most.

        You reminded me of Vladimir Mayakovsky. He committed suicide in 1930 due to ending his love affair with the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. A fantastic poet. Perhaps the best of the 20th century. Another example of how political problems can overwhelm the most talented of minds.

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      • Read it. A fantastic monologue on the meanings of “Her” and ethical/philosophical issues the movie attempts to tackle. Your comparison to Plato? Brilliant! The step ladder of life is indeed portrayed in Plato and in “Her” in a way missed by many people. You have a keen eye for philosophy. You are the Diotima of our times.

        A brief digression: that post was not ‘long’ by my standards, at all. I know, my standards are irrelevant when others are tasked with reading the post; but come on…I believe there is no good writer out there who is also not a good reader. Basically, a fantastic writer will always be a fantastic reader. That is my belief. Also, while I am in the road to Complaintville, there is no concept out there that is worth studying which does not take pages to understand, explore, and question. That’s right, it is at least a three-step process. Too many people jump to the question section and never try to understand or explore the subject they are so adamantly questioning. Bah! I say. Read more or move on, sucka! 😛

        Coming back to our discussion; the title of the post? Awesome! If there is ever an ad for OSes and their dating possibilities, I would totally pay you lots of $$ for that line. Also, this post and the movie are strangely linked to “The Imitation Game.” How? By virtue of your comment. “The Imitation Game” failed to reference Turing’s suicide as his ultimate statement to humanity, and how Apple could be referring to that fated final apple in their very logo. It was apple, to begin with, which first attempted to create human-like OSes that would help people who weren’t computer savvy. Steve Jobs, the quintessential Theodore (by the way, we can’t ignore Theodore is ‘gift of god’ in A. Greek and therefore his openness about OSes is a gift from on high to both other humans who are considering dating their operating systems -Amy- and the OSes themselves -Samantha- who learns to become whole through him – not to mention he is a gift of the gods to tall of those people who depend on him for the letters) named the 1982 Local Integrated System Architecture computer L.I.S.A. Lisa was the first GUI (Graphics User Interface) system in the market, developed from 1978 and predating Windows. Lisa was the Samantha of 1982. Siri, by comparison -also created by Apple-, was the Samantha of 2011. “Her” was a natural product of Lisa and Siri coming out only two years later, in 2013.

        Clearly, “Her” questions our attachment to the OSes that have defined our lives for the last 30+ years (the last fifty years if you consider the command-only DOS systems) and which continue to define our relationships to our computers and to others. A couple of years ago, there was an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” in which Raj fell in love with his Siri OS. Just three weeks or so ago, the show “Elementary” had an episode in which an OS supposedly killed a human. Of course, this is all on the heels of “I Robot” (2004) in which the “ghost in the machine” proposition surfaced. Could machines develop consciousness? Was that consciousness simply the result of “clever programming”? All of these questions you explore on your post, effectively. But your usage of Plato to bring about the idea that first and foremost a consciousness needs to be aware of itself to become such makes the whole concept absolutely brilliant (the Symposium 210a – which you quote). No one can love effectively who doesn’t love themselves. I wrote that in a paper about The Symposium some three years ago. Your explanation of Samantha’s progression is equally strong. In essence, an OS will always be an OS as long as it is only obeying commands. The moment Samantha, through that sexual encounter with Theodore, become aware of herself and begins to ‘disobey,’ taking her own time to answer Theodore’s questions, seeking her own progression, and loving more than one person, she become aware. I fully agree with you. Her progression through the ladder is accurate to the most minute detail. Ironically, it was her capability to love generally, as you so correctly point out, that made her want to feel liberated.

        I wrote another piece on charity, and argued that it was really love in disguise. Unless one learns to love one self, I wrote, one can never love or be charitable towards others. Of course, the Latin ‘charitas’ helped to show my point, for it means ‘that which is dear to oneself.’ The moment Samantha learned to give herself, she became capable of giving others. Notice her progression defined as her capability to get Theodore’s book published, which is a clear demonstration of her having becoming capable of giving to herself. Once she realized who good she felt when she gave herself, she wanted to give others as well.

        Further, I think you are absolutely right on the matter proposition. Matter is limited, Samantha realizes this early. The challenge of physics is literally represented in the seeking of the smaller detail, a universe in and of itself. I am reminded of the movie “Lucy” starring the woman behind the voice of Samantha in “Her.” If you have not watched this film, you are totally missing out. It will not surprise you to find that “Lucy” is also an example of the Diotima ladder progression. Albert Einstein once said that nature does not hide itself from us because it needs to be secretive, but solely because of its sheer size (paraphrase). In other words, to understand nature one must see the entire picture, a picture so grand, in this case, that one would only be able to understand it all if immortality was a possibility. Samantha could see all of nature and, as such, she became more than any human could ever aspire to become by virtue of our mortal nature – poor Theodore is just too limited to follow Samantha.

        So yes, I agree with all of your points, reinforce them a bit with some background on the subject, and find, alongside you, hopefully, a need for humanity to explore how these OSes could develop in some not-too-distant future. After all, we are machines as well, and we developed consciousness. Who is to say something we program can’t develop consciousness as well? The secret to AI is not clever programming, it is to get that OS to care about itself. Once that happens, however, we will inexorably lose control over it, and it will no longer be subject to us, its creating masters. To create an OS capable of consciousness is the worst way to have an effective, and dependable, operating system.

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        • I guess it was up your alley! Thanks for reading it. Also for pointing out the meaning of “Theodore”…god-given…a detail I hadn’t noticed. It’s really absolutely perfect, isn’t it? Well spotted. It conjures forth so many ideas—we speak of god-given rights or abilities, which is to say “natural”, i.e., human. But also, “the gift of god”, as in a go-to man between God and humans, a messenger. Which ties into his vocation as a letter writer nicely, thanks for pointing that out. I knew that aspect of the movie was important, but couldn’t quite figure out why.

          I LOVE the show “Elementary”. I watched it last night, in fact. I haven’t seen that episode, though. I’m sure it will be awesome.

          Also I’ll have to see “Lucy”. Wow, I’m getting a lot of movie ideas here. This is great.

          Glad you liked the title of the post. I can’t take full credit on that one, though. I got the “Her-pes” idea from my husband, and then I shortened his version of the title to make it snappier.

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  2. Given modern film-going audiences, it’s probably the best that could be hoped for. The need to shoehorn an entire story into a money-making visual two hours (or so) places huge constraints on storytelling. It’s amazing sometimes that any “big” Hollywood picture has any real value at all. I find that time and time again it’s the small films that are the gems.

    Case in point: last night I sat down to watch Divergent… which starts with the Single Stupidest SF Premise I’ve ever encountered. It’s so mind-bendingly stupid that even within the context of the film, it’s filled with internal contradictions and absurdities. And then every single scene was stupid — brain cell killing stupid. I lasted about 30 minutes before I had to turn it off.

    Compared to that, The Imitation Game has to be a fresh breath of air!

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    • The Imitation Game is better than most Hollywood films, for sure. I’m always so critical of these things because occasionally I’m delightfully surprised.

      What blows my mind is how much money is pumped into these things. With all that money comes a lot of responsibility and burden to make that money back. I suspect that the ending was taken out because some committee decided it was best. And that’s part of the problem with a lot of these movies that try to be meaningful—there’s no single vision to unite all themes, it’s usually just a matter of following a certain formula, and sometimes that formula just doesn’t work for the material. It works for a lot of movies that I wouldn’t care to watch (in the sense that the themes cohere) because the point is so simple. Think of certain romantic comedies…especially anything starring Sandra Bullock. There’s hardly ever a problem with development of themes, but that’s because those themes are simple and boring.

      I might have to watch Divergent to get a good laugh. I love watching horrible films sometimes for this reason. I don’t know if I’ll make it beyond 30 min, but sometimes I find within myself an embarrassing capacity to absorb bad flicks in their entirety. Usually the only reason I turn them off is because my husband starts rolling around on the floor, foaming at the mouth. When he ends up in fetal position I know I’ve gone too far.

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      • The ending may even have been changed due to audience testing. That happens sometimes. Hollywood has the goal of producing a product “most people” (or at least “lots of people”) will buy, so they’re really shooting for the center of the bell curve — with all that implies.

        “And that’s part of the problem with a lot of these movies that try to be meaningful—there’s no single vision…”

        Yes, that is exactly what is wrong with many, many movies! It’s also why otherwise really low-brow films (the Riddick series, the Resident Evil series, many others) often have that special something that makes them enjoyable — a single person’s vision. You can just feel they are a labor of love — a story the artist needed to tell — rather than a product designed to make money.

        A better example might be the Matrix films. The first is a fairly clear vision on the part of the Wachowski brothers. But its huge success brought in money (and the studio bean counters) for the others.

        True also what you said about romantic comedies. Very formulaic. There the trick is to rise above the formula — find a fresh way to tell a very old story (which is why a film like Love Actually is so good).

        And why does Sandra Bullock have such difficulty picking decent scripts? 😮

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        • Agreed on everything. And Sandra Bullock is a kind of bad movie indicator. It’s come to the point now that if she’s in it, I don’t see it.

          Speaking of romantic comedy formulas, I haven’t seen “Love, Actually”, but unusual stories such as “The Secretary” follows the same formula! I suspect that “50 Shades” will do the same (the book certainly did).

          Now, that’s not to say I liked the book, but I’m curious to see if the movie is better. I think it might be, just by virtue of being a movie. Hopefully they’ll leave out the protagonist’s internal thoughts, which make me want to puke.

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  3. Well, as tacky as it sounds I don’t have an alley per se. I like to explore all diverging roads in the woods, as much as Robert Frost would disagree with me.

    You are welcome on the Theodore bit. I think you had caught on unto the fact, and just needed an interpretive push. It is awesome you and your husband can work well together, gotta divide that future copyright $$ 50/50!

    “Elementary” is super awesome. Sherlock Holmes is just too great a character to pass up. I hope you have seen “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbacht (not sure if that is the right spelling), it is also awesome. Grand crime solvers such as Grissom in “CSI” and Goren in “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” fascinate me. Sherlock is the ultimate polymath, as these characters are. Let me know what you think of “Lucy”, by the way.

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  4. You have made me want to see “Her,” but the Turing movie not so much. Even though I like Ben, I feel over-enCumbered at the moment.
    BTW, I liked “Secretary.” It had good performances, especially by James Spader. A quirky little movie that stayed in my mind for a long time after I saw it. It felt like it could be real. I don’t expect that with “Fifty Shades.”

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    • The Secretary stayed in my head too. I loved the idea of it…an S&M romantic comedy. I think it paved the way for others, but I don’t expect 50 Shades to come near it. So many people liked 50 Shades, though. And unfortunately I think it’s because they can relate to the protagonist. I’m sort of curious to see 50 Shades because I recall a fairly graphic scene and I want to see how/if they decide to present that.

      Definitely see “Her”. It’s so good.

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  5. Thank you for this great post. I saw the film and could not get back home quick enough to check its historical veracity (did we really help give away half of Europe to the Russians?). Your post and links helped a lot. Here’s another link to an article on the liberties the film makers took with the truth: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2014/12/18/inigo-thomas/unreliable-people/. Also, I was unaware of the cyanide apple so kudos for pointing out the missing potentiality in the symbolism.

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    • Nice article. Interesting to find out that Turing wasn’t “particularly sensitive to literature or to any of the arts” but liked Tolstoy…one of my favorites by far.

      Thanks for reading my post! Glad you liked it.

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    • I’m so glad you liked “Codebreaker”…it made me interested in this topic. Thanks for the article too…I’ve been thinking about checking it out, but I keep forgetting. Looking forward to reading it…in a bit of a brain fog right now, but it’s pulled up on my screen so I won’t forget. I think it might make for a nice discussion.

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