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? 

The Life of Alan Turing

The other night I watched Codebreaker, a documentary based on the life of mathematician, Alan Turing, widely considered to be the the father of computer science. I didn’t know anything about his life. In fact, I didn’t really know much about his work either, other than references to the Turing test for AI.

Turns out his life was really fascinating and tragic. This documentary is available on streaming through Netflix and I encourage you to watch it if you haven’t already seen it.

During WWII, Turing worked with a group of like-minded folks at Bletchley Park to crack German ciphers, specifically the aptly named Enigma Machine. His work was pivotal in the war, and he should have been treated like a hero. Instead, his British government persecuted him for his homosexuality (which was then illegal) and forced him to make a decision: go to prison or allow himself to undergo “treatments” for “chemical castration”. He chose the chemical castration because they told him it was reversible.

He underwent “treatments” for a year to decrease his libido. He had trouble concentrating, and he probably experienced other negative side effects, such as gynecomastia. His suicide was poetic—he ate an apple poisoned with cyanide, leaving behind no letter. The apple said it all.

It’s sickening to think of what such a man could have accomplished had he lived. The documentary painted a portrait of a sensitive and highly self-aware man, sometimes difficult but mostly charming and charismatic.

I watched this trailer to The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing:

Turing seems here to be characterized as the stereotypical autism-spectrum idiot savant, not unlike Sherlock. I know allowances are supposed to be made for movies, but I wonder if even just for the sake of character Turing’s portrayal could have been more nuanced. Of course, I’m jumping the gun here. I haven’t seen the movie yet. (Just like me to criticize a movie before seeing it!) In truth, I can’t wait to see it. Especially since I love Benedict Cumberbatch, even if this does prove to be Sherlock II.

Have you or are you planning on seeing The Imitation Game?