The Imitation Game

The English film "The Imitation Game" about Alan Turing was released this week in Germany, so we picked up the film in English at Odeon with some mathematically inclined friends. The theater was well-filled, a good sign, as I like having a movie theater close by that shows English-language original films. And has SALTED buttered popcorn.

A review on the radio was positively gushing about the film, while the Wikipedia article in English has a long section about various controversies, the short German Wikipedia article is completely dominated by criticism. Turing is portrayed as a traitor for not exposing a spy! He never worked with the guy! He wasn't that close to June Clarke!  The maths are wrong! There's an error in the machine! He was arrested in 1952, not 1951! Etc. etc.

Just ignore all this. It's not supposed to be a documentary and they only have two hours to tell the story so that people can sort of begin to understand what drives some people to spend hours and hours pouring over mathematical formulas and computing machinery. And that some of these people have issues understanding social cues and relating to people. They're odd ones. Maybe he was an Aspie and maybe he wasn't, it is still a wonderful film.

The actor Benedict Cumberbatch gives quite some insight into what it might have been like to be Alan Turing, to have had this mad idea of building a machine to break codes, and to have had his contribution to ending the war kept secret. His homosexuality, gently woven throughout the film, which caused the country he saved to put him on trial and have him chemically castrated, is well-treated. It's not in-your-face and it's not something mentioned off-hand. It is part of him, full stop. And it is a disgrace to England that it took until 2013 for Queen Elizabeth to pardon him.

The last few minutes of the film flash cards noting how the story plays out. They call Turing's death a suicide, although there are any number of alternative ideas from inhaling fumes from his chemical experiments to GCHQ having their hand in it. From what we have heard from Edward Snowden the past year and a half, that is actually starting to make a lot of sense. Turing understood the art of cryptography and cryptanalysis, the GCHQ doesn't want a lot of that going around.

Anyway: a film that makes people think about how gays are treated, about how deadly secrets are kept in a war, and about math being important gets a thumbs up from me. I shall recommend it to my students. And I suggest reading Andrew Hodges' book "Alan Turing: The Enigma" as well as Turing's publications. Oh, and learn cryptography while you are at it.

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