Based on a true story, this movie starts in 1951 in Manchester, England at the headquarters of the MI6, the British secret service as they are receiving the message that Professor Alan Turing has been robbed. After the mathematician professor insults the police out of his house, the scene shifts to 1939 London as children are being evacuated to the country in anticipation of the Blitzkrieg. The earlier time period shows Turing talking his way into working for MI6 by pointing out that he is one of the leading mathematicians in the world and believes he can decode the German messages that are sent through a device called the Enigma. The Enigma machine is so complicated that there are 159 thousand, thousand possible combinations of encoding that can be used every day.
Realizing that there is no way that the five men put to work on this problem could possibly solve the issue, Turing ignores what the rest of the team is doing and gets to work designing a machine to defeat it – a computer. The bulk of the movie focuses on how Turing and his team developed the computer that cracked the Enigma code and helped the Allies win the war, but also how they had to be very careful about how they used the information that they received through Enigma so that the Germans would never guess that their code had been cracked. This forced the team to ‘play God’, which all of them struggled to deal with.
The story’s relevance today is that it shows how the first computers were developed, for what purpose, and by whom. It shows how big they were and how clunky with the gears and moving parts, and also how difficult it was to develop – requiring the best minds in Britain at the time and a lot of money for the equipment needed. It also explores a bit about cryptography and how that works and why it was an important part of how the code was broken. Through this film, it is also confirmed that the government agencies do sometimes make statistical choices about which attacks to counteract against and which ones to allow to occur, allowing military and civilian deaths that could have been prevented in order to advance a greater strategic goal. These are still things that could happen today in the wars or other locations where we have soldiers or civilians. It is even more possible since the computers have become so much more advanced and can now handle the jobs that people did in the 1930s.
The idea that Turing is homosexual is also covered in the movie as he seems to fall in love with his friend Christopher who helped him to understand the world when he was in prep school. It is confirmed later when the 1951 investigation into the break-in at his house reveals that he is homosexual, which is apparently against the law at this time. As soon as his sexuality is discovered even though that wasn’t the focus of the investigation, Turing is arrested.
It was known by some members of his team during the war as well, which comes out in a conversation with Cairncross (one of his team members) while Turing is celebrating his engagement to Joan Clarke. Cairncross warns him about keeping his sexual identity secret because it is against the law in Britain. When the secret does come out in 1951, Turing is given the choice of jail or hormone therapy treatment. Because he doesn’t want to be separated from Christopher, the machine he built, he opts for the hormone therapy even though it steals his mind and his dexterity. The text at the end of the movie reveals that only a few years later he committed suicide. In this way, the film highlights the tremendously destruction power of the homosexual laws in Britain, destroying a mind like that when he wasn’t causing any harm to anyone. Since these are big issues in the news today, the film makes an important point about giving LGBT people full rights as human beings.
Something I thought was interesting in the story was how they portrayed a suggestion that Turing intelligence was linked to some degree to Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Throughout the film, small hints are given that he is extremely intelligent about math but doesn’t relate well to other people and has almost no social skills. While it sometimes caused him a lot of trouble, like at school in relating to the other boys, at others it leads to the significant breakthroughs he makes, such as designing a crossword puzzle to screen the community at large for qualified candidates to fill the empty positions they have open in the department after Turing fires everyone else. He is able to screen the community at large without ever letting anyone know that they were applying for a top secret government position until after they had already passed the initial screening.
The clues that it is Asperger’s that Alan has are provided in scenes such as when his school friend introduces him to cryptography and he comments that it isn’t at all different from people talking – people say words but never mean what they say and the individual is left to figure out what they mean, only he never can. He also openly admits that he doesn’t understand jokes and, even when he knows of one, he can’t deliver it in a convincing way. His efforts to get along with others are guided by Joan and enable him to make a connection with his team which ends up saving the project when they stand in solidarity against their commanding officer to keep the project going for another month.