Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: The Imitation Game

Careful, there may be spoilers below.

Shira and I got wild and crazy on Saturday night: we saw a movie in an actual movie theater! Man, I love those 25 minutes of previews! Anyway, the movie we saw was The Imitation Game, which is the story of Alan Turing.

Being a Computer Science Major, I'm already somewhat familiar with Mr Turing's work. He's sort of a Charles Darwin of Computer Science. To appreciate this you have to appreciate that Computer Science isn't really about Computers or Science. It's about the study of computation, and problem solving in general. Sure, we have to use these pesky physical machines but that's an implementation detail.

Alan Turing made great headway into understanding what's computable, and naturally to do this, he created his own computer and method of programming it. On the surface that may not be particularly impressive, but consider that he did this in 1936 or so. A decade before anyone even saw a computer, and years before computer programming would be a true pursuit, Alan Turing had already devised the most powerful computation machine on the planet, and proved that all general purpose computers were equivalent to his contraption.

So before I walked into the theater I had mad respect for the man.

For the next 2 hours I was fully entertained by the movie. As the previews suggest, the movie focuses on Turing's involvement with the effort to break Germany's WWII encryption technology. I had known of Turing's involvement in this effort, but the movie truly brought it to life. I suppose it's a special kind of challenge to tell a story where the outcome is known (I'm looking at you, Titanic), and the creators of the Imitation Game pulled it off well. So yes, the movie was entertaining and gave me a fresh perspective into Turing's life.

The first order of business after leaving the theater was to Google Imitation Game: differences from real life. It was obvious that they injected a dose of Hollywood into the movie, but how much of it was fake? Slate, among others, answers that question, and no surprise the results aren't pretty. Many of the moments I enjoyed in the film just plain never happened.

What do I think about this? I'm not sure. It's easy to kvetch, and say that they should have been more true to the story. But, at the end of the day, if the goal was to show just how amazing Turing was, perhaps they succeeded?

In end, I think the spirit of the film is in the right place. So go, watch it and enjoy. Just do your homework after the fact so you can separate fact from fiction.


  1. I really liked the movie too. Yes the inaccuracies bothered me, but the way I look at it, many non-techies might have heard about this amazing man for the first time - and that has to be a good thing right?

  2. Thinking more about it, I realized that they essentially exaggerated every aspect of the story: he was quirky, so they gave him Aspergers; he was one of the signatures on a letter to Churchill, so they made him be the author and *only* signature; that sort of thing. I suppose, though, if you want to tell his entire life story in 2 hours, that sort of exaggeration is to be expected.

    In the end, I agree with you: as a way to introduce him to the masses, it works. Oh yeah, it also works as a fun movie to watch. There's that too ;-)