Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Imitation Game - first look thoughts

It was revealed on Monday (21st July) that the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game will be opening the London film festival. When I heard that they where making a Turing biopic, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing him, I was more than excited. Alan Turing was a brilliant man who virtually came up with the computer, as well as cracking the Enigma machine, therefore significantly shortening the Second World War. He is mainly remembered nowadays in relation to his forced chemical castration by intake of oestrogen, of which he was ordered to do by Her Majesty's Government when convicted for "indecent exposure", or being gay, which was still illegal in England in 1952. He died two years later from cyanide poisoning, sixteen days before his 42nd birthday.

Much has been made of the official apology given by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who said "So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work I am very proud to say: we're sorry, you deserved so much better" in 2009, and he was pardoned of his crimes three years later. Turing has since become a national hero, with 2012, the centenary of Turing's birth, being declare Alan Turing Year, with event's being held across the world.

The film however has received some reservations about it. The trailer shows a lot of the computers and war aspect, but also show Cumberbatch playing rather dramatically a man who wasn't that dramatic. Keira Knightly also features quite prominently, playing Joan Clarke, who worked at Bletchly Park when they where cracking the code. Turing and Clarke where briefly engaged, but not much came of their relationship. Turing's niece Inagh Payne has criticised the inclusion of Knightley as Clarke, suggesting that they are trying to romanticise their relationship, and stepping too far away from the truth. There have been complaints also that the film doesn't focus enough on Turing's homosexuality, although a comment by Matthew Goode, who is also in the film, who said that the film focuses on "Turing's life and how as a nation we celebrated him as being a hero by chemically castrating him because he was gay." This kind of comment suggests that the fact he was gay, or the fact that he was severely punished for being gay, maybe the whole point of the story.

Probably the most famous image connected to Turing was that he killed himself, two years after being chemically castrated, with an apple injected with arsenic. Many people who have looked back at the contemporary evidence now believe that it may of been death by accident, as arsenic may have built up in his system due to his experiments with it. And he always had a few bites of an apple before bed every night.

I would be disappointed if The Imitation Game went ahead with a full on tear-jerking suicide film of a tortured genius, as the evidence for this is just non-existence. There is even first hand evidence of Turing not even being bothered too much about his castration.

Turing knew that his inventions and ideas where classified information, as the time just after World War Two was just as sensitive as the war itself. And his lack of recognition for his pioneering work in computers may be due to American newspapers mislabelling American scientists as the inventors. There is more to Alan Turing's life than him being a tortured gay man, and although his punishment was heinous, we would be doing him a disservice to pigeonhole him in this way. I'll leave with a quote from Jack Copeland's Turing: Pioneer of the Information Age, which perfect summarises how we should think of this remarkable man:

"The exact circumstances of Turing's death may always remain unclear. It should not be stated that he committed suicide - because we simply do not know. Perhaps we should shrug our shoulders, agree that the jury is out, and focus on Turing's life and extraordinary work."

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