Cinema Divinite – The Imitation Game

Both in philosophy and computer science, the name of Alan Turing is one that is inescapable. His name arises specifically in reference often to the "Turing Test" thought experiments, where Turing proposed one could develop criteria to determine whether, according to responses to questions, the respondent is a computer or a human being. The Imitation Game takes its name and guiding star from the paper Turing wrote by the same name, which initially proposed the idea of the "Turing Test" and set forth some of the most thought provoking ideas about artificial intelligence that had been proposed up to that point in time. 


Alan Turing was an unparalleled genius and a great unsung hero of the Second World War. While troubled and alone, his contributions to computer science were instrumental in the development of computers as we know them today. Without him, it would have taken many more years to defeat the Nazi threat and countless lives would have been lost. His technological and philosophical achievements for the Allies in the past and for the development of human knowledge for us today are simply outstanding. His life, however, was tragic both in its own twists and turns, but even more so in how it was cut short by his suicide and public struggles with conviction under Britain's homosexuality laws. 


The movie chronicles his life as he participated in the Allies war effort, coming into their top secret counter-cryptography program fresh out of Cambridge - the same university he would return to as a fellow, and stay at until the end of his short life. The story-telling is excellent, switching often to his childhood in order to expose motivation and give psychological depth to a complex character. Benedict Cumberbatch was a perfect pick to play the role of Turing and displays to the viewer the complex emotional and psychological mess that he was. For us today, Turing probably would rank on the autism spectrum. However, that did not lead the director to pigeonhole Turing into the role of a disabled person; Cumberbatch portrays a morally complex though tragically isolated individual who had remarkable mental gifts and was battling his demons in the midst of a life-and-death struggle to save as many lives as he could from the war. 


Where the movie lags for me is the problematic, although predictable, emphasis on Turing's homosexuality. It is what makes him such a tragic and complicated figure at the end of his life, and was very likely a factor in his suicide. However, in today's cultural climate of the debates over same-sex marriage, one gets the impression that this debate has seriously coloured the screenplay in such a way as to turn Turing into a posterboy for contemporary political agendas. Cumberbatch's final dialogue about machines seems to detract from what was truly revolutionary in Turing's ideas and make his ideas about artificial intelligence a chipher for a gay love affair. Whatever your opinions on the moral question, it seems to me to put words in Turing's mouth and tilt an otherwise very honest portrayal into a set of politicized cameos. Without a doubt, the movie nevertheless should win a prize or two in the immediate future, not least of which should go to Cumberbatch for an excellent and moving job playing the conflicted, complicated, (and not-nearly as computational as he might seem at first glance) tragic genius of Alan Turing. 


My Rating: 9 out of 10.