‘The Imitation Game’: Turing, Nazis and Homosexuality

It has been seventy years since the end of World War II, and the stories of courageous men and women who risked it all for their country keep flowing out of the film industry. Regardless of who the story is about, the romance, bravery and horror of the war fill the movie screen reminding viewers of a dark time in history. The Imitation Game, released on Christmas Day 2014, is a unique story of the war, one that isn’t so much about the war but about a silent hero.

Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, was a brilliant perhaps prodigious mathematician whose role in the war was, in short, to help the Allies beat Nazi Germany. Turing, along with other great mathematicians, codifiers and linguists of the time such as Joan Clarke played by Keira Knightley, are given the task to break Enigma, the machine the Nazis used to codify secret messages about their attack plans against the Allies. Enigma was said to be undecipherable, something that attracted Alan Turing much more than winning the war. In order to break Enigma, Turing designs Christopher with the reasoning that only a machine can beat a machine. Christopher not only beats Enigma, but also becomes the predecessor of modern-day computers.

However, the real story of The Imitation Game is not Christopher or even World War II, but Alan Turing’s struggle with his homosexuality. Up until the late 60s, homosexuality was illegal in England, and Turing was forced to keep his sexual preferences hidden. This does not only create problems for Turing’s personal life, but also for his professional life. Blackmail, secrecy and double lives provide The Imitation Game with the usual turns and twists of war movies. Flashbacks of Turing’s first love, who was also the person who interested him in codes, contextualize Turing’s behavior and traumas that shape his decisions with Christopher. The film concludes with Turing’s life after the war, where regardless of his contributions to society, he is unable to live freely.

Regardless of how much the trailers and the movie itself try to overshadow the importance of Turing’s story, The Imitation Game becomes a movie about the unexpected. Turing says to Clarke “Sometimes it is the people who no one images anything of who do the things that no one can imagine” (2014). This quote, which is repeated throughout the movie, reveals not only what might surprise us about the characters, but also about the film itself. The Imitation Game does something the viewers cannot imagine: it tells the story of the sielnt hero who cut the war by two years, who saved an estimated 14 million lives, who created what would become the beginning of computers, who until 2013 was still classified as a criminal. The Imitation Game is filled with overused images of war movies, particularly World War II movies: people running to the tube for shelter, surprise attacks by the Nazi troops, people in despair and even losing objectivity by the loss of a loved one. Despite these war clichés, The Imitation Game provides the viewer with a different approach to the war, an approach about the silent heroes who fought courageously, but were not free to be. Alan Turing’s life, his contributions to the war and modern-day technology as well as his struggle to be himself, are what make The Imitation Game a movie worth watching, worth remembering.

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