The Imitation Game

If you like a puzzle and you like computers and technology you will quite likely love this movie. It tells the story of Alan Turing and his genius and how he and his team help defeat the Nazis in World War II.

Enigma Machine

The movie revolves around two foci, Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine. The Enigma machine was invented in Germany as a way to code messages so they couldn’t be broken. The possible combinations were in the billions and if you didn’t solve the problem that day, you had to start all over again the next day because the Germans changed the code.

Childhood

The movie starts by showing Turing as a school boy in a British all boys school who was brilliant in mathematics but had some odd characteristics. It has been postulated that he had Asperger’s Syndrome. He didn’t want his peas touching other things on his plate and he didn’t seem to pick up on other people’s emotional cues. He found it much easier to understand math than people.

World War II

He had a good friend in school, Christopher, who gave him a book on codes and he took to it like a duck to water. So when the war starts and the British are looking for ways to break Enigma, they invite Turing and others in for interviews. Turing is put on a team headed by Hugh Alexander. Everyone is trying to understand the code and break it each day except Turing. He tries to build a machine that will crack the code since he realizes that people can never work fast enough each day to break the code. At the same time he manages to alienate most of the team because he doesn’t know how to relate or doesn’t think they are doing useful work.

At one point he asks for something and is refused and told he can take it up with Churchill if he wants. Apparently he does, because a letter comes putting Turing in charge of the team. He immediately fires several people he thinks are useless. He then searches for people who are good problem solvers in an unusual way. He puts a puzzle in the newspaper and tells anyone who can solve it to come for further interviews to help the war effort.

A number of people come including Joan Clarke. She is almost not admitted because she is a woman and the person checking people in tells her to go with the other secretaries. Turing intervenes and she takes part in another puzzle he has devised as a further test for the applicants. Joan ends up solving the puzzle even faster than Turing can and becomes part of the team.

Joan is a big help because she coaches Turing on how to interact with people and clues him in to things. She is also a big help because she is brilliant and can help solve some of the problems.

One of those problems is convincing Commander Denniston, who is the military person in charge, to fund Turing’s machine. Denniston doesn’t understand scientists and mathematicians, doesn’t particularly like them and particularly doesn’t understand or like Turing.

Gradually the team comes to believe in Alan’s machine and get it to work. But by the end of each day, it hasn’t crunched through enough combination’s to break the code. Denniston says it is worthless and tries to destroy the machine but the rest of the team threatens to quit if he does that.

Breakthrough

They all go to the officer’s club where Hugh is chatting up a young lady. She comments about how she has a German lover. (She was being tongue in cheek) She is picking up coded German signals and recording them. She doesn’t know what he is saying but has realized that he as a certain style and can identify him compared to others. This gets the team thinking and they realize that there is a weather report each day at a certain time and it always ends in Heil Hitler. This gives them a key to feed into Christopher which is the name Turing has given the machine. Voila. Enigma is solved.

But the problem is that they can only let a very few people know. And they can only selectively choose when to act on the information. If they chose to act on all the information, the Germans would know the code was broken and would change it and all their work would be for naught.  This meant they had to play God and decide who would live and who would die depending on which information was acted upon.

Detective Robert Nock and Problems

Interwoven with the other parts is a period after the war. There is a break in at Turing’s apartment but nothing is stolen and he tells the police not to bother. Detective Robert Nock thinks this is odd behavior and that Turing is hiding something. He digs into Turing’s war record and comes up with nothing. This is because it was so top secret that nobody knew about Turing’s Enigma operation until decades after the war. Nock eventually discovers that Turing is gay and the break in had to do with that. Because being gay was a crime in England at the time, he was sentenced to two years of chemical castration or he would be sent to jail.

The side effects were so severe that after one year he commited suicide. This was a crime against humanity perpetrated by the British government. Turing’s machine Christopher was the first computer. What he created basically has transformed all our lives. Who knows what he could have invented if he hadn’t died so young.

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