a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Imitation Game (2014)
Morten Tyldum (director) / Graham Moore (screenplay)

This film about Alan Turing and his role in breaking the Nazi enigma code has been a critical and financial success. It has won numerous awards and brought huge crowds of people to see a movie about a mathematician, at least in part due to the star power of Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.

Among mathematicians, reactions have been mixed however. Some are bothered by historical inaccuracies. (For instance, Turing was not responsible for making tactical decisions based on the decrypted messages. Also, the subplots with the spy portrayed by Downton Abbey's Alan Leech and the battle for supremacy at Bletchley Park are fake and apparently added just for the drama.) Others were disturbed by the stereotypical portrayal of the math genius as anti-social and humorless. (There is no denying that Alan Turing struck people as an odd man, not necessarily surprising considering that his homosexuality must have made it difficult for him to be completely at ease in such a hostile environment, but he seems to have also been a person with a good sense of humor and many close friends.) Knightley's character mispronounces the name "Euler". Finally, the film downplays some of Turing's important mathematical discoveries while falsely giving him credit for the comparatively lame contribution of thinking to look for common phrases in the coded messages. Yet, while acknowledging all of these problems, some experts also still find things to love in the film.

To get a good sense of the diversity of opinions out there among experts, I recommend that you read The New York Review of Books' scathing criticism, Scott Aaronson's blog entry, this fact-checking article from Slate and this review by mathematical fiction author Cristos Papadimitriou.

And of course, you should see it for yourself and come to your own conclusion. If you do, you should be sure to compare it with Breaking the Code, an earlier attempt to portray Turing's story with less sensationalism and a greater focus on his math research outside of Bletchley.

(By the way, the title is a reference to the Turing Test.)

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Works Similar to The Imitation Game
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Enigma by Robert Harris / Tom Stoppard
  2. A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin
  3. Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore (playwright)
  4. Lovesong of the Electric Bear by Snoo Wilson (playwright)
  5. Sekret Enigmy by Roman Wionczek
  6. Sebastian by David Greene (director)
  7. En busca de Klingsor (In Search of Klingsor) by Jorge Volpi
  8. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  9. The Eight by Katherine Neville
  10. Pythagoras' Revenge: A Mathematical Mystery by Arturo Sangalli
Ratings for The Imitation Game:
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GenreHistorical Fiction, Adventure/Espionage,
MotifAnti-social Mathematicians, Cool/Heroic Mathematicians, Real Mathematicians, War, Turing,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Logic/Set Theory,

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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)