Med City Movie Guy: 'Imitation' is not fully flattering to Turing

The Imitation Game2.jpg
Charles Dance, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch star in "The Imitation Game."

Cryptography has been around a long time. One of the earliest methods was the Caesar Cipher,which merely transposed characters not unlike a secret decoder ring. Some, like Tony Orlando'sonce unbreakable cipher, used complex phrases to represent shorter schemas. "Knock three times on the ceiling,"for instance, was the encoded version of "if you want me."

Contemporary algorithms use sophisticated keys to better mask the data. Information doesn't need to be protected forever, just until it is no longer useful. During World War II the Germans used a small typewriter-sized encryption device known as the Enigma machinethat supported what mathematicians call a buttload of combinations(159 quintillion). But because the Germans changed their key every 24 hours, Britain was unable to decipher the day's attack plans quickly enough, resulting in millions of casualties over the course of the war.

To crack the code and thus shorten the war, British Intelligence assembled a team of number-crunchers led by Alan Turing,who posited that humans could never perform the vast number of calculations necessary in short order, but a machine can.

Benedict Cumberbatch("12 Years a Slave") is Turing in "The Imitation Game,"an uneven adaptation of Andrew Hodges' "Alan Turing: The Enigma." The jumps between his days in a boarding school, cracking the code and his later years seem to exist only to acknowledge Turing's discrete homosexuality, which doesn't impact his ability to get a job or end the war. It does, however, make for an awkward relationship with his protégé Joan Clarke (" Pirates of the Caribbean's" Keira Knightley)and a conviction for lewdness eventually drives the mathematician to suicide at age 41.

Turing may have been an unsung hero and certainly suffered silently (he named his military machine Christopher after a boyhood friend for whom he still pined) ostensibly preferring solitude over teamwork, but this nonetheless dignified telling, deserved as Turing is of it, lacks passion.


For me, that's what didn't add up (ha ha!). The valiance and triumph of breaking the code and saving the lives of 14 million people came across as muddled with a halfhearted social statement on Turing's lifestyle and Clarke's (minimal) impedance to breaking into the boy's club. Even the excruciating task of withholding news of pending attacks to let the Germans think their secrets were still secure lacked empathy.

Still, the performances are solid and fans of historical drama (of which I am one) will give this one some leeway.

Med City Movie Guy's rating: 3 Honks


That does not compute!

Lots of things don't make technological sense in films. (Lack the necessary access to a file? No problem, just type "OVERRIDE.") But seriously, is giving a computer a name supposed to help it pass the Turing Test? Maybe, let's program and then ask these guys…

Joshua. That's what Dr. Stephen Falken called his supercomputer (the brass at NORAD called it the WOPR). Matthew Broderick just thought it was fun to hack into and play "WarGames" like Global Thermonuclear War. Look out, spark-plug!

Colossus. Like Joshua, Colossus was a supercomputer clicking away under a mountain with total control of our nuclear arsenal. The twist in "The Forbin Project" is that Colossus takes a Russian mate exchanging ones, zeros and God knows what else. When the people supposedly in charge try to pull the plug, the machines launch counterattacks on each other. And you thought the Blue Screen of Death was bad.


Samantha. "Boy meets multi-threaded heuristic operating system, OS becomes self-aware that she can do better, boy loses multi-threaded heuristic operating system" was the crux of "Her," a bizarre love story that starred Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson.

HAL. That's the name of the outgoing (see, right there, now that's unbelievable) computer in the classic "2001: A Space Odyssey" who calls himself "foolproof." Try as I do to type, "The computer that calls itself foolproof has a fool for a microprocessor," my autocorrect keeps changing it to "Intel rocks!"

Dexter. That's Kurt Russell's character in Disney's "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes." The kid gets turned into a supercomputer when a power surge strikes the monitor while he's surfing for topless photos of Goldie Hawn … something like that, anyway, I think. It's been a while since I've seen it.

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