The Story Behind “The Imitation Game”
"The Imitation Game" movie is based on a book titled "Alan Turing: The Enigma." This biography, written by Andrew Hodges, focuses on the life of Alan Turning, a British mathematician and pioneering computer scientist who, in the words of Wikipedia, “is widely considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence.” Turing's work and wartime services significantly helped to win World War II. Unfortunately, due to the indecency laws against homosexuality in England at the time, Alan Turning was later convicted in the 1950s by the very country he had worked so hard to help save less than 10 years earlier. Worse, not long after the conviction he met an untimely death that is largely considered to be a suicide (although some do disagree with this finding.)
My Experience: Seeing “The Imitation Game”
When I went to see this film the first time, I the story that it told stunned me. Even though I went into the movie with a basic understanding of how Alan Turning’s life came to its end, the film’s conclusion brought tears to my eyes and created literal heartache in my chest. I felt that the film’s excellent cast and gorgeous complimentary score, combined with great direction and editing, all came together to tell a tragic tale about a once nearly forgotten historical figure.
The film’s interpretation of this story presents Turning – played by Benedict Cumberbatch – as a socially awkward genius who, while brilliant, might have been diagnosed as autistic today. Turing is hailed in the film as a singular figure in cracking the Enigma codes and machines used by Germany; yet despite his contributions to the war effort, he is later abandoned by his government and forced to undergo chemical castration after his conviction for indecency. In my mind, this performance of Turning actually made the story all the more tragic, as it presented him as a lonely individual who practically only had his inventions for company until the end of his days, all because of his illegal sexual preferences and his overall inability to interact with others in a socially acceptable way.
But no film is perfect, and “The Imitation Game” is no exception. In this case, the film’s greatest flaw may very well be appearance and performance of Turning himself. And since the film’s release, many have debated online about whether or not this well made film should even be recommended given its historical inaccuracies.
Fact Vs. Fiction In “The Imitation Game”
There’s no denying that “The Imitation Game” takes serious liberties from the historical facts it’s based on. Even a quick Google search reveals numerous additions and changes made in the name of making this film. The most basic changes include the addition of character drama that some call unnecessary at best but insulting at worst. The most extreme changes include things such as the alterations in Turning himself that made him seem narcissistic and even Sherlockian in nature. In reality, the very people who worked with Turning reported him as “a very easily approachable man” – not the difficult individual portrayed in the movie.
My Thoughts On The Debate Surrounding “The Imitation Game”
After reading about these changes, I decided that I wanted to view the film a second time to see if it held up as a stand-alone movie on a repeated viewing. It did. I once again left with tears in my eyes, even knowing that the film featured as much fiction as it did truth.
Since my second viewing, I’ve put a lot of thought into why the changes in this film don’t bother me as much as they do other people. To me, the very answer lies in the medium. “The Imitation Game” is not, nor was it sold as, a biographical documentary. It is simply a film, which by definition is an escapist medium with a long, long history of creating fictional tales in the name of telling a good story.
With that history in mind, I think any reasonable movie goer will recognize that “The Imitation Game” – along with countless other film featuring the words “Based On A True Story” – was bound to be filled with liberties made in the name of making a concise, emotional story fit for the big screen. If “The Imitation Game” were a TV show, perhaps it would be closer to the historical recountings of the book the film was based on. But “The Imitation Game” is not a TV show – it’s a movie, with a different format and running time, and as a result, different story telling needs. And while I understand the frustrations of historians and Turning fans alike, I also understand that Hollywood, by nature, is not now and never has been the place to go for a history lesson.
Where I Stand In The “The Imitation Game” Debate
When I see a film, I always ask myself one main question: "Is this a good film?" And while there are many components to what makes a film good vs. bad, historical accuracy is not one of them in my mind when I'm evaluating a Hollywood flick. This is exactly why, despite its historical flaws, I continue to view "The Imitation Game" as a good movie.
To those who might disagree with me, I ask that you consider my final thoughts: to expect a Hollywood film to be 100% historically accurate is unrealistic. Film as a medium is not about being 100% realistic or correct. Films can certainly be used to make broad statements, as this one does, but at its roots this medium is also about escapism and creation. That’s why Hollywood is and always will be a storytelling entity, and the artists and filmmakers working within it will always take liberties when making films that are “Based On A True Story.”
And it’s up to us – the viewers – to recognize this. The concern with “The Imitation Game” in my mind should not be about whether the film is historically correct or not, but whether or not its viewers have the good sense to research the facts behind the film before they accept it as historical fact. While it's easy to blame moviemakers for failing to properly educate the public about historical events, we have to remember that it’s our responsibility – not Hollywood’s – to educate ourselves at the end of the day, and to recognize when we're watching something made primarily for entertainment. Therefore, those who are concerned about the misleading story “The Imitation Game” told should not direct their frustrations at Hollywood. Instead, they should be concerned about the general national lack of media literacy awareness that has led to people failing to recognize that a movie featuring the words “Based On A True Story” is still nothing more than an ordinary movie - something created not for educational for purposes, but for entertainment and entertainment alone.
Photo One – Courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo Two – Courtesy of Wikipedia