BEHIND EVERY CODE IS AN ENIGMA.
The title refers to a paper that the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing wrote in 1950 where he introduced his now-famous test of a machine’s ability to imitate a human being’s intelligent behavior. The test is performed only through text, with questions and answers, and if the judge of the test cannot tell the machine from the human based on the replies the machine wins. Over the years, the merits of the test have been heavily debated.
Naturally, the title of this film also refers to Turing himself who made an effort, just like many other homosexuals or people who in other ways were “deviants”, to imitate normalcy at a time when you were supposed to never step out of the box. This film focuses both on Turing’s historic achievements and the man himself and his issues.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Allies are desperately trying to break the German Enigma machine, a device for enciphering and deciphering secret messages between the high command and various military entities. In Britain, this task is being performed by MI6 at Bletchley Park and they are desperately looking for potential brilliant codebreakers. When the young Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) joins them, his arrogance and social ineptitude is off-putting to his colleagues and superiors. After a confrontation that even gets Prime Minister Winston Churchill involved, Turing takes charge of a team whose work hopefully will result in a new machine that will crack Enigma. He also becomes close to Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a woman who is forced to work clandestinely on the team…
Never treated as a hero
The Enigma was a beautifully designed invention, which makes Turing’s accomplishment even greater. As illustrated in the film, his new machine paved the way for computers and is estimated to have helped shorten the war by several years, saving millions of lives. Alan Turing is a true British war hero, but he was never treated as one. Partly because his work had to be kept from the public, partly because he was gay, convicted in 1952 for indecency and subjected to hormonal treatment to reduce libido. This is obviously a shameful part of British history, but the film doesn’t resort to sermonizing.
Flashbacks to Alan’s childhood provides an emotional background in the form of a tender infatuation with another boy, and his Bletchley Park connection to Joan, another person who has to pretend in order to live the way she wants to because of the damaging morals of the day, mirrors that part of his personality in clever ways. It is an emotional drama, but not overwhelmingly sentimental; director Morten Tyldum (who made the Norwegian Headhunters (2011) such an enjoyable ride) turns the story of how Turing fought for his machine into a pre-eminent thriller, complete with a secret spy and moral repercussions. Writer Graham Moore has been roundly criticized for many historical inaccuracies. But, as in so many other great films based on real events, the quality of the moviemaking trumps the need for dry reporting on the facts.
Alexandre Desplat’s music, reminiscent of James Horner’s score for another film about a genius, A Beautiful Mind (2001), ingeniously sounds as if it is illustrating the ingenious calculations inside Turing’s mind. The scientist is extraordinarily well played by Cumberbatch, who takes the quirks of his detective on Sherlock and makes them far more relatable and human.
Alan Turing received an official posthumous apology from the British government in 2009 and four years later Queen Elizabeth signed a royal pardon. A triumph of reason and compassion over ignorance.
The Imitation Game 2014-Britain-U.S. 114 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Screenplay: Graham Moore. Book: Andrew Hodges (“Alan Turing: The Enigma”). Music: Alexandre Desplat. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard… Charles Dance, Mark Strong.
Trivia: The story was also told in the TV movie Breaking the Code (1996).
Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay.
Last word: “Benedict transforms, he doesn’t act. He becomes Turing. I put aside three weeks of rehearsal — which is now getting rarer and rarer to actually have that — and we were able to really explore these characters and really find the voice of Alan Turing and try to create him. Because there’s no recordings of him — nobody knows how he talks, nobody knows how he moves, there’s only … descriptions of him. So we had to sort of, like, piece him together. And I really think [Cumberbatch] makes Alan Turing come to life. And Alan Turing’s family was there when we opened the [BFI London] Film Festival. They were very complimentary about how it is, so that was a good feeling.” (Tyldum, NPR)