Alan Turing was the British mathematician and cryptanalyst credited with building one of the world’s first computers and essentially winning World War II for the Allies. And yet many have never heard his name, which is what drove Graham Moore to spend four years writing a screenplay about his life. But the pioneering computer scientist’s wartime work is merely one facet of a complicated man whose life was both heroic and tragic.
The title of the film comes from a test designed by Turing to determine whether an entity is human or computer. (A funny concept when considering our modern equivalent, CAPTCHA.) “We’re human to the degree that we can convince someone else that we are human,” explains Moore about the idea behind the test. “The notion that Turing’s mathematical work and his theoretical computation work was deeply influenced by his experience as a closeted gay man in Britain during a time period where it was not just frowned upon but quite literally illegal—that sort of connection between the personal and the mathematical felt like the core of the whole piece to me, and was a big step early on in unlocking the character.”
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing—the “irascible genius” who served as an inspiration for self-proclaimed “nerdy misfits” like Moore—“The Imitation Game” is a high-stakes drama about war, friendship, desire, and impudent drive. The film hopscotches through time, from Turing’s adolescence spent discovering cryptography and first love to his code-breaking work during World War II to the 1950s, when Turing was arrested and chemically castrated at the hands of the government for his sexuality.
“I knew very early on that I wanted the movie to focus on these three periods,” says Moore. “Turing was obsessed with codes and puzzles and games, and the whole movie would be an imitation game of sorts using these periods, cut up, so the audience has to piece things together. It would be this puzzle that they’re trying to solve the answer to, which is the mind of Alan Turing.”
To get at that truth, Moore spent years researching the scientist before he met producers Nora Grossman and Ido Ostrowsky in 2010. (Grossman was coincidentally already working to develop a story about Turing.) Once the scriptwriting process began, Moore, who also received an executive producer credit, says he wrote monologues from the perspective of the characters as if “the main character was going to tell you the story of the movie in his or her own words.” This device pushed Moore to the core of his protagonist and supporting characters, brought to life by a stellar cast that includes Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, and Mark Strong.
“For me, the most exciting part of the process was rehearsals,” he says. “Morten [Tyldum, the film’s director] was very adamant about having two-and-a-half weeks of rehearsal time. Just going through the scenes and seeing the different processes that all the actors had for approaching a scene was so revelatory for me.”
Tyldum was Moore’s first choice when it came to finding a director because of the “Headhunters” helmer’s fearlessness with the film’s humorous undertones. Tyldum’s previous film’s pitch-black comedic attitude, according to the screenwriter, was what “The Imitation Game” needed.
“The first thing we really bonded over about the script was the humor,” Moore explains. “It’s been very gratifying, now that we’re showing it to audiences, to hear them laugh, because obviously it ends very tragically and it’s a sad story. But we always thought it was so important for the first half to really have a lot of humor to it because Alan Turing was funny; he was this lively character, and we wanted to pay tribute to his life by showing that as well.”
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