Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Imitation Game: Is A Great Film!

11th March, 2015.

It has to be said, I was going to open this post with the line, “I’m a sucker for a good film.”

Which — in a sense — is true.

I like watching good films.

But it struck me that opening with that line?

Was that opening with “I’m a sucker for a good film” would possibly be just a bit too glib.

Too superficial … shallow … 

Too … 

Yeah … I think you get my point.

That opener was way to shallow an opening.   Too shallow … 

Given the fact I wanted to tell you about a serious movie: one I know I’ve just been wanting to catch, ever since I heard of its making.

And release, last year.

The 2014, WW2 era drama, Morten Tyldum directed, The Imitation Game.

And wow … 

I think it’s been worth the wait.


The Imitation Game opens in 1951: when DC Nock (Rory Kinnear) and Sergeant Staehl are called in to investigate an apparent burglary, at the home of Professor Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Turing is — to say the least — both slightly off.   And very dismissive of any offers of help, in investigating the burglary.

It’s only when Turing is later interviewed by Nock, that the scientist feels able to tell Nock exactly why his war record had been erased.

What we later learn are flashbacks tell the story.

Of an unfulfilled love for a fellow pupil at his all-boys public school.

Of his schoolboy interest in cryptography.

And, ultimately … ?   Of his recruitment by the strict Commander Alistair Denniston (Charles Dance): into Britain’s Government Code and Cipher School, at Bletchley Park.

It’s only there he reveals that:
  • He knows why he’s being interviewed.
  • And that’s VERY confident about cracking Germany’s Enigma … 


Now … 

Did I like The Imitation Game … ?

Well … ?

Did I … ?

Hell, yes … !

I must confess to having had something of a lifelong interest in computers.

Granted, I’m no technician, no computer scientist.

I’m just someone who — having grown during the early stages of the home computer age — takes an interest in them.

So Alan Turing’s story?   Alan Turing’s life and work as the man who helped shape the modern world — in coming up with the idea of the modern computer — was and is of abiding interest to me.

After all, it was his paper, On Computer Numbers* that defined what he called a ‘Universal Machine,’ what others called a ‘Turing Machine’ and what us civilians call a computer‡.

It was his work — with the many others at Bletchley Park — that shortened the war by some two years.

It was his death, at the age of 42 — a bite from a cyanide laced apple — supposedly inspired a well-known computer company with its logo.

It was his unjust — but then legal — prosecution for indecency that’s inspired many — gay, straight or otherwise — to plea for pardons for Turing and others like him.

So, for me … ?

Seeing The Imitation Game … ?

Was something of a must.

And … ?

And, while I’m aware the film has flaws — I’m not at ALL sure of its historical accuracyª, for a starters, nor its presentation of Turing as someone who’s mildly autistic — I’m ALSO very aware it presents its story in a very engaging way.

And makes a fair effort at explaining a murky patch of history — one with a deeply technical side — in a way we laypeople will find both sympathetic, understandable and very watchable.


Personally, and much as with The Babadook, I’m going to seriously urge to see The Imitation Game.

It won’t disappoint you.
The Imitation Game

*        It’s a very complicated thesis.   My very — VERY — incomplete understanding is that the problem Turing was writing about in the paper would only be solvable on paper, if it could also be solved by a ‘universal machine.’   The machine has a set of data to be worked on, in long term memory.   A bunch of coded Nazi messages, for example.   The machine ALSO has an algorithm — or computer program — in another part of long term memory.   A decryption program, as another example.   The machine can then programmed to use the algorithm on the data, to produce a desired result, which can be put in another part of long term memory.   In other words, it can de-code the Nazi messages, and print them out.   If I’ve understood it correctly, the part the made Turing’s work unique was simple.   Once his universal machine had done this first job†, it could be programmed to do something else.

†        If — again — I’ve understood things correctly, Turing felt his machine couldn’t do the specific problem he was writing about.   But believed that other problems could be found that his machine would be able to solve.   Again, if I’ve understood things correctly, it’s basically what the computer at Britain’s Met Office, and the machines that run the world’s Stock Exchanges are doing.   Crunching the numbers need to predict weather, or the price of fish.

‡        I believe earlier definitions of the term referred to a person: complete with a pen and paper, doing this kind of numerical dog-work. 

ª        There’s a scene in the film where our small team of code-breakers finally crack the Enigma code: by realising that they should looking for certain words.   Weather reports would include woulds like ‘clouds,’ ‘rain’ and so forth.   The scene’s drama is increased, when the team realise they know that one very specific Atlantic convoy will be attacked.   And that they can’t tell the Royal Navy, as this would alert the Germans that Enigma had been cracked.   In truth?   As far any one is aware, the ‘Atlantic convoy’ was the city of Coventry.   The city had been blitzed during the war, and there is still debate about whether the UK’s intelligences services knew, or warned the authorities.

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