‘The Imitation Game’ is an exploration of secrets and the tragedies that arise from keeping those secrets.
Once his cryptanalytic machine was proven, Turing developed a probability method which determined how many deciphered messages the Allies could act upon without raising the suspicions of German intelligence that their code system had been broken. This probability method was combined with a British intelligence campaign of misinformation – against both the Germans and also within the Allies themselves – which falsified the reliability of the British cryptologist efforts.
The dramatic tensions of the film are heightened in multiple ways.
Firstly, there is the race to decipher the German encoded messages in time to protect Allied convoys at sea from U-Boat attacks and to protect British cities from German aerial bombing attacks. The film employs the twin motifs of Allied ships vulnerable to U-Boat attack and British civilians sheltering in London Underground rail tunnels. The sheltering of British civilians in London Underground rail tunnels, for example, has become a part of the popular mythology of the British civilian resistance to the German Blitz campaign of WW2 against British cities. However, contrary to popular memory, the tunnels were not necessarily a safe-haven. During the war, the scale of British causalities from German bombings were withheld from the public in order to reduce popular panic. In reality, only the very deepest of the tunnels were safe from German bombs. Hundreds of people could be killed at a time when German bombs penetrated a railway tunnel.
Secondly, the tensions were also heightened by the secrets and suspicions surrounding Turing himself. Some people distrusted his abilities and his methods. Some even believed that he was a Soviet spy. However, a direct appeal to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill removed most of these pressures and ensured that Turings’s work was well-funded.
Thirdly, far more insidious, however, was the prevailing British attitudes and legal codes regarding homosexuality. Turing endured a life-time of secrecy, fearful that if his sexuality was discovered he would be professionally discredited. During the film, we see multiple parallel stories – his life and work during WW2; flash-backs to life at boarding school which help to explain much about his psyche; and finally, the post-war police investigation that culminated in Turing’s arrest and prosecution for homosexuality. Offered the choice of prison-time or chemical castration, Turing opted for chemical castration. However, the conviction led to the revocation of his government security clearance and his dismissal as a government cryptologist. While the impact on his employment is not made clear in the film, the film depicts the apparent degradation of Turing’s mental faculties as a result of the chemical treatment. After two years of treatments, Turing’s subsequent death was ruled as a suicide.
In Part Four of this four part series, I will discuss some of Turing’s computational theories.
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