The Imitation Game, Alan Turing’s Legacy, and other Odds and Ends

“You just defeated Nazis with a crossword puzzle!”

I finally saw The Imitation Game. It is a masterful film and dramatization of the famous mathematician Alan Turing’s help in defeating the Nazis while paving the way for the machines we know today as computers. I loved this movie. It was inspiring, moving, and at times quite hilarious, while sad and hopeful at the same time. I personally found it a very emotional and deep experience. This post is not an attempt to analyze the movie and separate fact from fiction, and while I understand that dramatizations of such historical events are never 100% factually sound, this film inspired me to do a bit of research on Turing and consider his scientific breakthroughs and the last years of his life.

While the movie does not explicitly uphold homosexuality, it provides a complex and challenging look at how it was viewed and dealt with in the 20th century. It leads the viewer to sympathize with Turing’s character, regardless of his stubborn, arrogant personality that Cumberpatch is known for excellently portraying (Sherlock and Stephen Strange, anyone?). In the movie, though he was the hero of the narrative, Alan Turing was not a morally “good” person; he had his downfalls (disrespectful, stubborn, arrogant, stoic and unflinchingly unemotional and uncaring). He also acted on temptations that you and I may view very differently. I think, regardless of one’s stance in the controversial matter of homosexuality, that the way the government and the world at his time dealt with his choices, while in doing so overlooking what he had done for England and for the world, should be seen as inhumane. The movie accurately shows that after he helped save millions of lives and ultimately played a crucial part in defeating the Nazis, the options the British government gave Turing in punishment for his sexuality were cruel. The kind of treatments Turing went through in order to “cure” or “suppress” his gay leanings are known to result in depression and suicide, despite the controversy surrounding the “true cause” of his death; the last few years of Turing’s life is another matter of controversy; some sources suggest his death was caused by an accidental overdose of cyanide, while others pose that he purposely committed suicide by cyanide poisoning. Albeit it is safe to say that his hormonal castrations would have naturally played a part in psychological side effects that may lead to suicide, and that is probably what happened.

The years of work that Turing and his team members went through in decoding intercepted German messages is a profession that is not made public or celebrated; their breakthroughs in helping to win WWII were hushed and kept silent, lest the world hear. He made technological breakthroughs that sparked a revolution he would never see. In 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech remembering Alan Turing and apologizing for the way the government had treated him. Fifty years later, we now know Alan Turing as the pioneer of artificial intelligence, one of the most critical minds to pave the way for computers and technology today, machines that have and will continue to change the world.

Might I compare Alan Turing to Nikola Tesla or Giordano Bruno as examples, as well as countless other brilliant minds who were ahead of their time, and whose successes were acknowledged and began to change the world well after their death. It’s usually the ones who think differently and ask questions, the ones who are kept back by society, by the limitations enforced by others (whether moral or not), who question religion and yet pursue it, who question faith and yet fight against struggles with doubt, who question the mind of man and who altogether view the world in a way that no other human being ever has, who suffer because their perspective is seen differently by everyone else, who undergo it all and don’t give up regardless of such circumstances in order to leave their mark. It’s also the ones who work towards a brighter future and decide to do the impossible for the good of their fellow man who sometimes aren’t given the credit that they deserve until the world has reached the time they were from, to realize and acknowledge it after they have passed. Alan Turing wrestled with problems that the world at his time didn’t know how to deal with, and so dealt with them in a way that should be seen as harsh, cruel, and inhumane, as it should be seen when given anyone else the option of jail or unnatural biological distortions. Whether Turing was a cold, arrogant, yet endearing person as portrayed in The Imitation Game or a shy, introverted, and kind mastermind as he was known to really be, the injustice in the treatment he received for his homoerotic leanings after what he’d done for the world in his mathematic breakthroughs should never be overlooked or played down.

I think we are all given the chance to think and act ahead of our time and follow in the footsteps of great minds, artists, writers, scientists, martyrs, thinkers, musicians, and theologians. It doesn’t require the mind of a prodigy, but it requires strength and curiosity. Yet when one takes that step and begins to act on a belief for change, not everyone will follow. And not everyone will acknowledge and respect your work––most would rather point out your downfalls that you struggle with and blame you for unrelated misdeeds that would eventually disfavor your endeavors and attempt to send your progress reeling backwards. Sometimes the mark you put on the world, however large and however impactful, may be brushed over, burned, and forgotten; but every legacy has a chance to live on longer than the mind who created it. Legacy finds a way.

“It’s the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”

Sources:

The Real Alan Turing – a post that separates fact from fiction in contrasting the Alan Turing from The Imitation Game and the real Alan Turing

How Alan Turing Helped Win WWII and was Thanked with Criminal Prosecution – a rather brash take, but a perspective worth considering

PM’s apology to codebreaker Alan Turing: we were inhumane – a post from The Guardian highlighting Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s apology to Alan Turing

Beginning and end quotes from the film The Imitation Game

2 thoughts on “The Imitation Game, Alan Turing’s Legacy, and other Odds and Ends

  1. This was a really good post, I very much enjoyed reading it!! 🙂

    I’ve been wanting to watch The Imitation Game for a while, and just haven’t gotten around to it yet. I’ve read some about Alan Turing and I’m curious to read more about him once I see the film (I do know there’s an older Doctor Who novel featuring him meeting the Eighth Doctor, which I’m rather curious to look into as well). His story is so heartbreaking and makes me wonder about those who are “different” now and may turn out to be present-day or future heroes that will cause us to look back on our treatment of with shame.

    The way you presented how those minds that seek to know more and make strides forward in any subject will often be abused by the world–I agree with everything you said. It’s almost morbidly funny to me how we’re supposed to “think for ourselves” and question things in order to discover new perspectives that have perhaps never been considered by those who came before us, but the moment one truly does so, they’re often rejected.

    I’ll add one more note: I think it’s important to point out that the way Turing was treated in regards to his sexuality was inhumane and inappropriate regardless of his work for his country and against the Axis powers in WWII. It’s especially uncomfortable to think about because of his accomplishments, that the very people he fought (mentally, if not physically) to protect treated him so wrongly, but even if he was just a low-ranking soldier or army cook or regular citizen, the methods used to try to “cure” him of his sexual temptations would have still been very wrong. We can’t only condemn inhumane and unethical practices when they’re leveled against heroic people, or else we run the risk of qualifying who we think deserves ethical treatment and who we think does not.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed reading this!! A Doctor Who episode with Alan Turing sounds fantastic. And you’re absolutely right. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, that kind of treatment is definitely considered cruel and inhuman. That’s a really good thing to point out, thank you. And if it happens to well-known people, that kind of information is more widespread and therefore knowledge and awareness of such procedures are more widely known.

      Liked by 1 person

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