Journey 94: The Imitation Game

the imitation game

I declared a movie night for this evening. After a busy week it seemed a good time for some down time. One of my favorite ways to accomplish that is to watch a movie. I chose to relax with The Imitation Game. This was film number five out of eight, nominated for Best Picture.

The Imitation Game stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard, James Northcote, Mark Strong, and Charles Dance. The film was directed by Morten Tyldum and is based on the book, “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges. The biography drama was rated PG-13 for mature themes and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes. The Imitation Game was nominated for 8 Academy Awards including Production Design, Best Original Score, Film Editing, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress for Knightley, Best Actor for Cumberbatch, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay, for which it won its only Oscar.

Set during WW II, this is the true story of mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Cumberbatch). Turing, and his amazing and brilliant team of code-breakers, are in a race against time to decipher the German messages that are sent out during each day through Germany’s communication machine, named Enigma. Considerable unbreakable, the British government assembles the team to do the impossible: break a code that a machine creates…and changes every day. Doing so will not only end the war, it will save millions of lives.

Turing, who is not popular, heads up a team of mathematicians and statisticians that includes Hugh Alexander (Goode), John Cairncross (Leech), Peter Hilton (Beard), Jack Good (Northcote) and the only female on the team, Joan Clarke (Knightley). Turing is misunderstood and threatened by the commander in charge of the project, Denniston (Dance), and secretly aided by government official, Stewart Menzies (Strong). Turing has a mind that is beyond brilliant, and yet he lacks social skills and the ability to comprehend sarcasm and subtleties of language. He fights to keep his place on the team as he develops a machine to decode another machine. Given one month to make his machine, nicknamed Christopher, work, the rest of the team at lasts pulls together and supports Turing in his efforts.

Joan not only has a complex intelligence, she also helps Turing understand social interactions and how to make friends. They form a close friendship around their mutual respect for each other and their work to break the Enigma code. Even though Turing confesses to a team member that he is a homosexual, he asks Joan to be his wife, to appease her conventional parents and keep her with him, working on the project.

With time running out, the team breaks the code, using the seemingly insignificant German weather message that goes out every morning at 6:00 am. Using the common words that are in each message, “weather” “heil” and “Hitler” Turing’s machine is able to decipher each day’s messages. The team works closely with Menzies, using statistics to determine which messages to act on, and which messages to ignore. If they had acted on every piece of intelligence that they received, the Germans would have been alerted to the fact that their unbreakable code had, indeed, been broken, and they would have changed their tactics. With a detachment necessary to make such decisions, the team fed vital information to allies and their own government, slowly but surely changing the course of the war. It is estimated that their work shortened the war by at least two years, saving approximately 14 million lives.

In 1951 Turing, now a professor at Cambridge, was arrested for indecency, a charge against homosexuality, which was a crime in the UK at that time, and given the option of imprisonment, or chemical castration. He chose to be injected with drugs rather than imprisonment so that he could continue his work on his machines. Turing died one year later. The film indicates suicide. Research I did after watching the movie suggests his death was caused by accidental cyanide poisoning as Turing worked with an apparatus for electroplating spoons. In 2013 the Queen Elizabeth posthumously granted him a pardon. Alan Turing is today recognized as the father of computer science, his machines the forerunner for the general computer.

This was a beautiful film. I have not watched as many “based on a true story” movies this year, as I did last year, and these stories always inspire me. I am amazed to found out the whole story of how World War II was won. It was a combined effort of countless military people, on the ground, in the air and at sea, commanders and high ranking decision makers….and a little group of six people who excelled at solving impossible puzzles. Their story was kept secret for more than 50 years.

This is, at heart, a story about being who you are, even if who you are is very different from everyone else. Sadly, even those who are different will attack one who lives at the extreme edge of what is considered normal. I strongly dislike injustice and prejudice, of any kind. A movie like The Imitation Game brings me into a raised awareness of the uniqueness of ALL people, no matter how different they appear to be from me. I teared up many times, watching Turing’s internal conflict over struggling to fit in…and not caring whether he did. Cumberbatch and Knightley both gave outstanding performances and deserved their nominations.

The words that became the theme woven throughout the film, repeated at least three times by different characters, were these: “Sometimes it’s the people who no one imagines anything of…who do the things that no one can imagine.” What a powerful reminder that greatness lies in all of us, and is expressed in many ways. Such souls may crack unbreakable codes… or ring up purchases at a supermarket while offering out of their hearts. All of us have the ability to make lasting contributions to society and change the world, staring with our own small space. Walking away from this movie with the conviction to extend grace and respect to others, all others, while freeing myself to offer out of my own passions and talents, honors the man Alan Turing. I am grateful for his life. I am  imagining what I could not imagine for myself, before.

the imitation game quote

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