Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Imitation Game

(USA, UK, 2014)

I think it’s really true that Alan Turing belongs in the short list of people who affected the course of WWII, right along with FDR, Churchill, Stalin (that monstrous motherfucker), Eisenhower, Yamamoto, Halsey, Montgomery, Zhukov, Patton, McArthur, and John Wayne. (Well, we would never have won without the Duke guarding the home front and dodging fake Jap bullets, would we?) And until very recently, no one knew who the hell he was.

He and a whole bunch of others (which you would scarcely know from seeing this movie) cracked the uncrackable German Enigma code machine, and for most of the war were feeding the German military communications to higher ups almost as fast as Hitler and Himmler got to read them. And thereby created a monumental ethical problem, in that if you acted on all this stuff, the fucking Nazis would soon realize you were reading their mail, and in about a week they would have new machines. The fucking Nazis were evil, but not stupid.

BTW: these were not decisions made by Turing and his team, as shown here. That was far below their pay grade. But people were allowed to die who could have been saved, no question about that. Churchill knew about the upcoming firebombing of Coventry, and had to decide not to alert the RAF to be ready for the bombers. A very hard choice, that, but according to the sort of historians who calculate things like that (and I don’t know how, but assume they are at least in the ballpark, or cricket pitch), the war was shortened by about two years and around fourteen million lives were consequently saved because of the information from the boffins labouring in the squalid Nissen huts at Bletchley Park. It is quite possible that one of those lives saved was my old man, who would soon have been shipped out to a combat area if the war hadn’t ended when it did. Thus, I would never have been born. So my hat’s off to you, Alan, and all your puzzle-solving buddies.

As for the film … I don’t demand total historical accuracy in a movie like this, and it’s a good thing, because this one plays very loose with the facts. I won’t even try to list all the things that were changed to hype it up. There is a list of some of them at Wikipedia. Take everything you see here with a few kilos of NaCl, and know that what you see is only approximately the story. If you want to know more, read the book. I’m okay with that, and enjoyed the film on that level.

But what I do want is for the character to be portrayed pretty much as he or she was in real life, and futzing with that I cannot abide. And that was the downfall of this movie, for me. Alan Turing was indeed a homosexual (they didn’t have the word gay back then), something the movie acknowledges but sort of downplays until the end. But he was not the totally socially inept Asperger’s jerk we see here. They made that part up, simply to give Benedictine Cucumberbunch ( … that doesn’t seem right … oh, well …) something to contend with, something that might land him on the Oscar ballot, and indeed it did. He had better watch it, as along with his brilliant portrayal of the modern-day Sherlock Holmes, he might get typecast as a brilliant asshole. Anyway, it is this that tipped the balance for me from a positive to a negative review. Just barely negative, but that’s it.

And it’s a damn shame, because it was a damn disgrace, what His Majesty’s Government did to him after the war, this unsung war hero, with the charge of Gross Public Indecency. Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until about 1965. He was forced to undergo “chemical castration” with a drug like Depo Provera. (His death two years later was ruled a suicide, but there is now some doubt about that.) Suicide or not, it was appalling, and the government of the UK and even the Queen have apologized for it and abolished his conviction. One can only wonder what this man might have achieved had he been able to live as long as, say, Stephen Hawking. He was that brilliant.

Again BTW: There is an excellent short TV series called The Bletchley Circle. The premise follows a group of the really unsung heroes of the Enigma Project, the hundreds of WRENs and civilian women who laboured on the radio intercepts so the big brains could decode them. These girls had to be super smart themselves, good at solving puzzles. This group is bored silly by their lives after the war, and set out to help the police solve their most intractable crimes. We enjoyed it.