"Cryptography is the science of codes.
Like secret messages?
Not secret. That's the brilliant part. Messages that anyone can see, but no one knows what they mean, unless you have the key.
How is that different from talking?
When people talk to each other they never say what they mean. They say something else. And you're supposed to just know what they mean. Only, I never do. So how is that different?
Alan, I have a funny feeling that you're going to be very good at this."
Looking back, the above-mentioned conversation between Alan Turing and his school friend Christopher Morcom, is for me the perfect summary of the fascinating life of the intellectual mathematician Turing. The phenomenon he faced throughout his whole life had to do with "decoding". From an early age, Alan had trouble dealing with his fellow men. It was for him in a way a kind of cryptogram how to act and react towards his fellow men. A brilliant mind who simply couldn't grasp simple human interactions. At a later stage he was the one who designed a forerunner of the current computer and who formed the basis of the principles of artificial intelligence, in order to crack the infamous Enigma cipher, which was used by the Germans during WWII and which combination changed every 24 hours. An almost impossible task to do for a human being. But thanks to the pioneering work of Polish scientists in this area it was made possible by him, by building one of the first self-correcting computers "The Bombe". Ultimately this would drastically change the course of WWII and shorten this dreadful period with 2 to 4 years. So millions of lives were spared in that way.
This magnificent biopic highlights three important episodes in the life of Turing: his school period in Sherborne where he obviously was the center of harassment's because of his odd behavior, the war period which took place mainly at Bletchley Park where he and some staff members built the innovative machine and the postwar period. The result is a clever interwoven story that jumps effortlessly from period to period. I'm not a huge fan of these flashbacks normally but the Norwegian director Morten Tyldum succeeds wonderfully in making three parallel stories without too much confusion.
Although most of the story takes place during the 2nd world war, it's not a typical war movie. So don't expect any heroic battle scenes. The emphasis is on the person Turing and his mental state that haunted him throughout his life. A hard, impatient, arrogant, narcissistic person who wasn't easy to work with. He had a profound distaste of explaining complicated theorems and he treated everyone in a derogatory way. Many of his traits appear autistic and point in the direction of Asperger syndrome.
What really impressed me in this film was the interpretation of Benedict Cumberbatch who impersonates the person Turing in a brilliant way. A realistic portrait in which the viewer is trying to decipher the riddle Turing. He managed to change your feelings regarding this genius again and again. From sympathy to irritation and than changing it into pity. One moment you passionately hate this bastard. The next moment you deeply admire him and you are outraged about the treatment this "war hero" underwent. A lack of appreciation for his impossible feat and the fact that it was only in 2009 one pleaded for a posthumous rehabilitation and the British government eventually offered its apologies. Although I also had a mathematical education and am working daily with computers, I must admit that I'd never heard of Alan Turing. This year there was a scene in "The Machine" I enjoyed, where a certain Vincent, also an A.I. expert, subjected certain software systems to a Turing test. Also a known procedure described in an article by Turing while working at the University of Manchester.
No doubt about it. This was one of the most interesting films of the last year with some masterful acting. Not only by Cumberbatch (and I put my money on him when it's about the Oscar), but also by Keira Knightley, who I usually dislike when she uses her exaggerated expressive smile again. Also the result of cracking the code and the taken subsequent actions, gave the story an extra dimension. There were some historical inaccuracies though : The machine never got the name "Christopher" (this was purely for increasing the drama content of the film), the impression one gets as if Turing was the initial designer and the fact that he wrote a letter to Churchill on his own. But despite these trivialities, this was a successful tribute to a war hero. Unfortunately you can't prove this but I'm sure that without the commitment of this person, my vernacular probably would be German.
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