“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie, The Imitation Game, by Morten Tyldum) was one of those people; he was a genius. He and a team of 5 other mathematicians were enlisted by MI-6 during WWII to crack the German enigma code which had a possible 97 million million combinations and was changed daily between midnight and 6 a.m. Despite the fact that they had captured an enigma machine, without the code, it was useless. It is amazing that anyone thought that any number of people could sift through all the possibilities in 18 hours and solve the problem which would then have to be done all over again the next day. Turing recognized the problem and designed a machine that could quickly decode 3,000 messages a day.
The movie begins and ends with Turing being questioned by police. They come to investigate a burglary at Turing’s flat in the winter of 1952 but he sends them away saying nothing had been taken. That makes Detective Nock (Rory Kinnear) suspicious. When he tries to find out what Turing did during the war, he discovers there are no records at all and suspects that he was a spy, so continues to investigate him. Turing is finally arrested for gross indecency (being a homosexual), spends two years taking oestrogen (chemical castration) rather than take a prison sentence, and dies of cyanide poisoning shortly before his 42nd birthday. The movie deliberately points to the malicious persecutorial treatment of homosexuals, in this case, a war hero, albeit, an unknown war hero at the time.
This movie is fast-paced and moves back and forth between the efforts of the “enigma” team, the police investigation, and Turing’s unhappy childhood at a boarding school where he was bullied because he was an “odd duck”. His relationship with his co-workers at Bletchley Park is a difficult one until, with Churchill’s backing, Turing brings in some new mathematicians, including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), whose mind works like his does and who shows him how to get the other code-breakers on his side. The acting is excellent — lots of tension between the characters — and some amazing scenes of children at a train station being evacuated because of the bombing and a cross-section of people sweating it out in the underground bomb shelters. Some of the filming was done at Bletchley Park where the enigma team actually worked, and some was done at Sherborne School, Sherborne, Dorset, England, the boarding school Turing attended. The enigma decoding machine invented by Turing and company was made more dramatic by being larger than the original and showing some of the “insides”.
Turing is considered to be the father of the modern computer. He was a logician, mathematician, cryptanalyst, and pioneering computer scientist; the work done by his team is believed to have shortened the war by at least 2 years and saved millions of lives. In August, 2014, Queen Elizabeth II decreed a posthumous pardon for Turing, and his war work has finally been recognized after 50 years of secrecy. This movie is a fitting tribute to an amazing man without whom our world would be much different today. * * * * *
The Imitation Game on DVD is available for preorder at Amazon CA
and there are a variety of books about Turing and Enigma.
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