Saturday, February 7, 2015


An eccentric Cambridge mathematician, Alan Turing, played by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, struggled to break the Enigma Code.  Before and during WW II the Nazi’s used this secret code to plan their devastating invasion plans in hopes of winning the war. 

Turing’s efforts were constantly challenged by the military as an expensive waste of time and money while citizens and military personnel were dying by the thousands. British ships and planes were also succumbing to the German onslaught.

The Universal Turing Machine endlessly spun code-breaking solutions that numbered into the quadrillions. Nothing worked. Nerves were frayed. But Turing held firm. Suddenly, in a riveting sequence, the spinning wheels froze. A solution was imminent. Turing’s calculations broke the code. The war ended 2 years latter (1945) with a welcome Nazi defeat. It is claimed that the victory saved as many as 20 million lives. Turing and his Universal machine, a precursor to the modern computer, were given substantial credit. 

In 1952 Turing reported a robbery. Police investigated and stumbled upon evidence that he was homosexual. Under questioning Turing pleaded guilty to ‘gross indecency’ and was given the choice of a prison sentence or the requirement that he receive hormone estrogen treatments which decreased libido and was known to cause impotency. The side effects were little understood. He chose the latter punishment. Turing grew despondent. In 1954 he was found dead, a likely suicide, at age 41. 

Because of a signed governmental confidentiality agreement, Turing’s work was suppressed for over 50 years. He lived a brilliant but haunted existence. Benedict Cumberbatch brings Turing to life with such authenticity that he gives us an indelible and lasting impression of an enigmatic genius. That Cumberbatch’s fans also think of him as enigmatic surely validates Norwegian director Morten Tyldum casting choice in this, his first English-language film. 

That goes for his selection of Keira Knightley as well, who inhabits Joan Clarke, another math genius whose deep admiration of Turing provokes a romance that painfully could not bloom. 

A note about Turing’s death. The Guardian reported that “he was found dead by his housekeeper, a half-eaten apple by his bedside . . . a postmortem concluded that cyanide poisoning was the cause of his death, though the apple was not tested.” 

Director Tyldum suggests that Turing was early for a meeting and went to a village cinema that was screening Disney’s SNOW WHITE. “So he popped in, fell in love with the movie and almost became obsessed with it. I think this gave Turing the idea of the suicide apple, and perhaps led him to actually kill himself”. 

Then again, Turing’s mother had cautioned her son to be more careful with how he stored chemicals – she didn’t want him to accidentally poison himself. 


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