Friday, January 2, 2015

The Imitation Game Reveals Broken Genius Who Cracked 'Unbreakable' Code

Alan Turing spat on social convention, pissed off colleagues and superiors alike, and masked his homosexuality in wartime Britain. Yet it was his team that solved an 'unbreakable' Nazi code and helped the Allied Forces win.

Ain't There One Damn Song That Can Make Me Break Down and Cry?

So sang David Bowie with a lovely feminine lilt in the title track for his 1975 album Young Americans. The lyric was before its time - suggesting a cynical society hardened to emotion and human suffering. Every so often a piece of popular culture, be it a movie or song, manages to pierce that hard carapace so the audience breaks down and bawls all over the theater floor.

After seeing The Imitation Game I'll have to include it in the short list of films that have made yours truly shed a tear. Probably because I identify on some level with the protagonist, Alan Turing, a British mathematician who constructed, with his team, a machine to crack the Nazi Enigma code, thereby allowing a steady stream of military intelligence, troop movements, and fleet locations to make it into Allied hands during the Second World War.

Turing was a mathematician by training, a child prodigy, and the man whose ideas presaged the modern computer as you and I know it. He was also socially awkward, not given to displays of human warmth, and someone who carried the memory of a boarding school crush killed by tuberculosis.

The Imitation Game's structure has the story jumping from early 1950s' England when Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) was arrested for having sex with a rent boy back to his wartime work at Bletchly Park, and even further back to his boarding school days. Each time period contains a key element of Turing's story - 1950s' England where his sexuality is revealed before the man is punished inhumanly by Her Majesty's Government, wartime to show his most significant career achievement, and Turing's schoolboy days to show us what makes this broken genius the man he becomes.

And broken he is. We get the picture early on - he can't maintain eye contact, has no sense of humour, and uses cold logic as the basis for all his decisions. Needless to say this doesn't endear Turing to the team of code breakers he's assigned to work with by Commander Denniston (Charles Dance). The team includes Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode), Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), and John Cairncross (Allen Leech).

The bonding between Turing and Cross is meaningful as she is the only woman on the team and he is, presumably, the only fag.  He encourages her to develop her talents as a mathematician in spite of the era's conservative views that a woman's place was in the home. In return she stands by his side when he reveals his homosexuality - unconditionally accepting a fellow Outsider and supporting him when he needs her most.

As Alan Turing, Benedict Cumberbatch does a convincing job as the loner genius who is racing against time to make his 100,000 pound (British currency) code breaking machine 'Christopher' succeed at the job it's supposed to do. Namely, run coding variations faster than human beings can. Every day at the stroke of midnight the Nazis change their encryption protocols, forcing the slaving code breakers to begin at square one.

Why name the machine Christopher? Turns out the machine's namesake is an old school buddy of Turing's - his only friend from early childhood if the narrative is to be believed. Christopher Morcom and Alan Turing found common ground in math. According to the biography The Imitation Game is based on, he was Turing's first love. Long since dead, Christopher is now a footnote in a life of incredible achievement that was matched measure for measure by suffering.

Alan Turing: The Enigma, written by Andrew Hodges, is widely considered the definitive account of the man's life and is the movie's primary source material. Glad Day Bookshop was initially the book's North American distributor. Glad Day founder Jearld Moldenhauer and Hodges became close personal friends during the book's research and writing. They spent time together in Toronto, London, Boston, Syracuse, and New York.

If you visit the 'Writers, Composers, and Academics' gallery on Jearld's website you will find a picture of Hodges on the gallery's first page.

Now go and do yourself a favour if you love smartly told, true stories. The Imitation Game is well worth your time. Maybe you, too, will find there are still a few works of art that can slip under our thick skins to make us break down and cry.

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