‘The Imitation Game’ pays homage to one of Britain’s finest
by Barrett White
In a secluded camp in World War II Britain, a man and his team worked against all odds to crack the code of Enigma, Germany’s most powerful telecommunications weapon.
The Imitation Game is Hollywood’s latest tribute to Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), a man who loved a good puzzle game. As depicted in the feature film, Turing is an above-average man who excels at mathematics—to the point of exclusion—and whose blossoming adulthood has left him at ends with society. As World War II looms ever closer to the island nation, Turing (begrudgingly) teams up with Britain’s top problem solvers to crack the code of Enigma, the computer-like device that encrypts Germany’s daily strategic messages.
The film, directed by Morten Tyldum, touches not only on Turing’s professional relationships with his teammates, but also with his intimate relationship with the brilliant Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley). Turing attempts to use Clarke—the sole female on the team—as a cover-up for his true identity as a gay man in a time when homosexuality was illegal. The film’s actions are framed by his trial with the British government, hopping to and from the ’40s and ’50s as Turing tells his truths to the interrogating officer.
In World War II Britain, the punishment for homosexuality was often one of two options: estrogen injections (chemical castration) or a jail sentence. Following Turing’s harrowing journey of cracking Enigma, he opted for the punishment of estrogen injections to avoid jail time, before eventually committing suicide in 1954 with cyanide. His works, including the Turing Machine, are still being used to this day, though we now refer to them simply as “computers.”
After a successful 2009 Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way [Alan Turing] was treated.” Turing was granted a posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth herself in 2013.
The Imitation Game is now playing in theaters everywhere.