Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Imitation Game - Benedict Cumberbatch's Portrayal of Autism

We went to see The Imitation Game this week, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing (inventor of the computer and the guy credited with cracking the unbreakable Nazi Engima code).

I know very little about Alan Turing.  Really, only that he is the one who created the Turing test, which is a test for genuine artificial intelligence.  So I have no idea how accurate the film is in terms of portraying his life.

But The Imitation Game portrays Turing as autistic.  And Cumberbatch does a fantastic job in that portrayal.  There is a brilliant scene at the beginning where Turing is interviewing for a job with the British military's codebreaking team.  I'm paraphrasing here but I think I give the gist of the scene:

Colonel: So you want to work for Queen and country?

Turing: No.  Not particularly.

Colonel: Then you care about the war, about saving lives?

Turing: Oh, no.  All that politics, it's quite dull.

Colonel: Mr. Turing, I believe you've set the record for the shortest job interview in history.

It's brilliant because Turing is literally answering the Colonel's questions without any comprehension of the larger meaning.  Neurotypical people would answer that they wanted to serve their country, even if they were mainly focused on the chance to break the puzzle of the Enigma code.  Cumberbatch plays it beautifully, slightly confused and very earnest.  He appears to be genuinely unaware of what he's doing wrong.

Later in the film we have a flashback to Turing as a child and another child is explaining what codes are to him.  That they are a way of saying something openly such that only the intended person understands what is meant.  Turing replies that all talking is like that, that people always mean something different than the words they use.  And he can never figure it out.

The film is very well done and will definitely be added to our collection.

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