Showing posts with label the Turing machine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the Turing machine. Show all posts

Thursday, July 9, 2015


The Imitation Game was last week's movie. I have the least expensive Netflix subscription, so I receive only one DVD at a time and average about one movie a week.  Since I can watch only one movie at a time, the inexpensive option works well.  I assume most of you know something of the story of Alan Turing, thus I am not concerned about writing a spoiler review.  During World War II, Alan Turing, a brilliant Cambridge mathematician, worked at Bletchley Park Code and Cypher School in England where the supposedly unbreakable Enigma code used by the German military was, in fact, broken, thus shortening the war by a number of years and saving a large number of lives.  Turing also formalized "the concepts of algorithm and computation with the Turing machine", a hypothetical device that is the father of the computer as we know it today.

While I enjoyed the film, I had the sense throughout that the story was in some way forced, that the director, Morten Tyldum, and script writer, Graham Moore, were trying too hard in a way that seemed fairly obvious to me.  However, since I knew only the bare bones of Turing's story, that he was a mathematical and cryptological genius, that he helped break Enigma, the German military code, while working at Bletchley Park during World War II, and that he was gay, I couldn't be sure of the how and why of the apparent strain.  After watching, I did a bit of online research and learned that the story, as told in the movie, took great liberties with the facts of Turing's life, such as they are known.  Though I agree it's quite common and sometimes works well when films take liberties for the sake of a more interesting story line, it seems to me that the movie would have been more entertaining if the director and writer had not portrayed Turing as two-dimensional, an awkward, anti-social, nerdy, gay genius and martyr to an ungrateful, homophobic nation, and rather fleshed him out as a complex and more rounded human being.

In 1952, Turing was charged with "gross indecency" for committing homosexual acts to which he confessed after he was arrested. To avoid prison, he was forced to undergo a year of chemical castration therapy.   In 1956, a little over a year after the hormone therapy had ended, Turing committed suicide.  Laws against same sex relationships were on the books in England until 1967 (and much later in some states in the US).  Though I do not minimize the cruel consequences of the laws for gay men, I wish the movie had been truer to the story of Turing, the man, who made no great effort to hide his sexual orientation from those who knew him and worked with him.  Also, according to biographer Jack Copeland, though he was indeed introverted and eccentric, "Once you got to know him Turing was fun — cheerful, lively, stimulating, comic, brimming with boyish enthusiasm."   Copeland also questioned the suicide verdict of the inquest.

If Turing is portrayed as two-dimensional in the movie, the supporting characters are one-dimensional, and that's not to demean the performances of Benedict Cumberbatch, as Turing, and the other actors, whose skillful efforts succeeded in holding my interest throughout the film by doing their best with poor material.

What the movie accomplished was to motivate me to learn more about Turing, which I've done by searching for material online and giving Jack Copeland's book, Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age, a place on my reading wishlist.