The Imitation Game (2014) – reviewed by George

Benedict Cumberbatch got a well-deserved Oscar nod for his portrayal of Alan Turing in this World Wat II spy drama, and the rest of the cast is equally strong. During the war the Nazis had Enigma, a letter-substitution code that changed every day, and required billions of combinations to solve it – every day. The British government was desperate and hired not only cryptographers, but also crossword champs, and other people adept at puzzles.
Turing was part of a small group played by Matthew Goode, Keira Knightley, Alan Leech, and Matthew Beard. While the rest worked on a quick way to get through all the options, Alan worked on an “Enigma machine”, a machine that would go through the possibilities faster than any group of humans could. He kept having problems until one of the others pointed out that the first message of the day, at 6 a.m., always mentioned the word “weather”, and someone else chimed in that they always closed with “Heil Hitler”. Given words of a known length that would always appear gave the machine fewer options to examine, and it worked. That breakthrough scene is one of the most exciting and suspenseful, thrilling and satisfying, scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a film.
And Alan’s tragedy that follows immediately is one of the most heartbreaking sequences; it’s just incredibly sad. We know from BBC’s (and PBS’s) “Bletchley Circle” that no one could ever know what the code breakers did, but far from being celebrated Alan was vilified, arrested for gay behavior, and sentenced to “chemical castration”, a two-year course of estrogen injections. At the end of the sentence he killed himself. And is that crazy or what? Chemically turning a man into a quasi-female sounds counter-intuitive to me – why not inject him with testosterone to make him more masculine?
You’ll also be stunned at the decision to act on only a fraction of the translations so that the Nazis would not know that the code had been broken. That meant letting British military men in all the forces, and a fair number of civilians, die in order to keep the breaking of the code a secret. Personally I don’t agree with this either; I think the Nazis would have been both physically and mentally unable to leave off writing “Heil Hitler” at the end of each message, so that even if they changed the code it could always be rebroken. Couldn’t it?

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