The Real Enigma – The Imitation Game


Wina Widaningrum came in to appreciate Benedict Cumberbatch, but left wondering more about Alan Turing.

Enigma (n): a person, thing, or situation that is mysterious, puzzling, or ambiguous.

It started with an enigma, an Enigma machine to be precise, that was built by the Germans to basically scrambled alphabet-coded information. Using a particular setting, this code can also be descrambled. Quite frankly, this machine made a remarkable contribution during the Second World War: it made the Germans unpredictable, undetectable and damn-near unbeatable, adding fuel to the fire that is precise Teutonic engineering and strength. For example, anything ranging from air force coordination and commands to secrets and maybe even love poems for Der Fuhrer could be sent by typing through the enigma machine, and the other side would be none the wiser.

The failure to include a reboot button is causing problems.
The failure to include a reboot button is causing problems.

Imagine, then, a world where this machine exists as one of, if not the most difficult puzzle of all to crack. It certainly was for the Allies, who summoned the best they had of problem solvers, mathematicians and code breakers. Bear in mind, too, that the British Empire was a lot bigger than the small islands they occupy these days, so the solving of this code essentially became a worldwide issue as these people tried their darndest to crack the code.

With the introduction of the Enigma machine, the movie began. ‘The Imitation Game’ is a biographical film about Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), generally regarded by many as the father of modern computing and artificial intelligence. In the context of this film, it goes without saying that Turing, a genius mathematician, was able to crack the hardest puzzle of them all. His success in doing so arguably turned the tides of war (that waited for no man) almost single-handedly in favour of the Allies, making the enemy predictable, detectable and beatable (once again). This machine Turing created was able to decipher the German’s code in a matter of hours. Turing himself believes this to be a starting point of sorts for machines to one day be able to think and decide for itself, rendering it smarter than human beings in a flash.

All of the above highlights an extraordinary turning point in history. Think about this: without that machine, there’s a decent chance we’d all be speaking German (maybe even Japanese) as our first language. The big question is: why was Alan Turing’s involvement in the war hidden? If not hidden, it certainly is not quite as celebrated as many other achievements; Neville Chamberlain’s waving of Hitler’s worthless promise to not wage war probably received more air time than this. Was it a case of him being weird, cold, distant and unruly, a rebel whose attitude overshadowed his remarkable works? ‘The Imitation Game’ gives a glimpse of who this Alan Turing is, his works, achievements…

Nobody realised Smaug had the ability to metamorphose.
Nobody realised Smaug had the ability to metamorphose.

…and troubles. A hint as to his possible obscurity lies in the fact that he was also a homosexual. Not unlike today’s landscape, where same-sex marriages are legal in more than half of the states in the United States, back then such views are not held to be…shall we say, compatible, with the development and progress of society. As such, this conflict is also present in the film, and while history buffs will probably be more than happy to share his fate with you, I shall leave you with the option of discovering his sad end for yourself in the film.

To be honest, the only reason I watched this movie is Dear Benedict Cumberbatch, and his acclaimed Oscar-nominated performance. Ah yes, and the over-eager Keira Knightley’s first Oscar nomination as well. I can actually hear her screaming, “Finally!” Beyond all that hype, after having watched this movie, these are my thoughts:

Dear Ben, you were wonderful as always. You played the role of socially awkward, cold, sort-of-condescending genius to a T! It’s like as if you have never play that character before!

Okay, I’m being sarcastic but I just can’t help it. It’s like I needed to shake off Sherlock Holmes, Kahn and Sheldon Cooper from my head first. But, Dear Ben really stepped it up a notch in the emotions department, especially in the scene when he asked, “Am I a machine or a human?” My heart breaks, and I wanted to hold him and rock him gently, just like when my laptop broke down (a device that probably would not have existed without Turing’s contributions, come to think of it). Dear Ben did justice in portraying the ‘square peg in a round hole’ persona of Alan Turing.

This is what you do every night when you do business: you have to Keira Knightley (kira nightly). #thekol
This is what you do every night when you do business: you have to Keira Knightley (kira nightly). #thekol

A special outstanding note should be written for the director as well, Morten Tyldum. Unlike a number of other filmmakers who may have chosen a different path, he kept the movie polite and neutral. There is great subtlety through which Turing’s sexuality was portrayed. The fact is, the movie basically gave a general picture of who the real Alan Turing was. No agenda (at least not ones that I noticed), no sense of making anyone look bad, and that must be applauded, I feel.

In finishing, ‘remarkable’ is the word that comes up once again, for that is what this movie is. Getting to know Alan Turing was actually bittersweet, for as amazed I was by his genius in figuring out how to defeat the enigma machine, I am equally sad by how his contribution to England (and the world, remember) was clouded by who he was. Personally, I also feel ashamed that I just knew about his remarkable works last year; how different would our computing experience have been had he kept on living?

Alan Turing died at the tender age of 41, and the cause of death was cyanide poisoning. Many believe that his death was an act of suicide. The posthumous pardon granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2013 was both too little and too late.

Until today, there are still many who wonders about how Alan Turing’s mind works. I guess in many ways, the real enigma was Alan Turing himself.

Wina discuss this film in more detail on the 44th episode of the podcast. ‘The Imitation Game’ is nominated in the categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing and Best Production Design at the 87th Academy Awards. It was nominated in the Best Motion Picture – Drama, Lead Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama, Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Screenplay and Original Score – Motion Picture categories at the 72nd Golden Globes Awards.

Featured image credit: Wikipedia

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