Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Imitation Game is a Good Imitation
As a computer programmer and mathematician, I couldn't resist seeing this movie about a favorite idol, Alan Turing. As one of the pioneers who paved the way for modern-day computers, Alan helped to create a machine that would break the unbreakable German Enigma Code in The Imitation Game.
This very entertaining movie explores the mind of a genius, touching on practically all aspects one would expect in a story involving Mr. Turing. There are references to the "Imitation Game" itself -- a test to see if an intelligence is human or machine. We see to what lengths these guys went to keep the code breaking effort a secret. The movie also explores what it was like to be gay back when it used to be illegal.
The movie also successfully captures what I like to call a Eureka moment, which is that very moment when you solve a very difficult problem, the heavens open up, and you see everything. I've had these moments myself, and they are always pretty awesome.
However, there are a couple of small problems with the movie. The writers took it upon themselves to dumb everything down so the audience could have a better chance of understanding, and they changed a few facts to make the drama a little more exciting.
For example, Alan Turing wasn't such a Sherlock-like sociopath. In real life, he could get along with other geniuses, though he generally was socially inept otherwise. Also, in real life, his superiors treated him with respect. So, all that bit about wanting to fire him for building a stupid machine? It didn't happen, but it sure did make good drama.
Also, the big aha leading up to the Eureka moment is really Codebreaking 101. The trick they mentioned would have been the first things they tried. But this is okay, as what led to the Eureka moment in real life probably would have been over all our heads.
Further, the whole idea of "It's midnight and now the Nazi code is changed and so we all have to start over from scratch and get angry and toss our papers on the floor" doesn't really make sense. In real life, the code you were working on is still there, and there's no reason why you couldn't finish your work. Even though it would be too late to decode "current" Nazi messages, you would still learn things and see how to get faster. Guess what ... that's what happened in real life, too. They got to where they could solve it in two weeks, then one week, and finally the breakthrough to do it in minutes.
Lastly, a comment on the music: It took me a while to realize that most of the music imitates the sounds of the Turing machine. Cool.
Regardless of the inaccuracies, the movie does get a lot right. If you don't know anything about Alan Turing, I strongly suggest watching this movie and get a good introduction. You'll get lots of good drama, too.