Urban Cinefile
"All I know is that sooner or later I've got to have some babies. I'm in baby mode like you would not believe"  -Russell Crowe, 1995
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 18, 2018 

Search SEARCH FOR A FEATURE
Our Review Policy OUR REVIEW POLICY
Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE

Help/Contact

ENIGMA – THE FILM BETRAYS TURING

Critics and audiences may enjoy Tom Stoppard and Michael Apted’s version of the Enigma code breaking story, but those who know the real Alan Turing are outraged. Brett A. Morgan puts his view, and below, we quote from Andrew Hodges’ review written for the British Society for the History of Mathematics (October 2001).

I cannot sit still while a great human being is viciously persecuted out of history again!

The film "Enigma" is a ridiculous and offensive pile of crap.

The lead code breaker at Bletchley Park was the brilliant Cambridge mathematician, logician, co-inventor of the digital computer and all round amazing genius, Alan Turing FRS (1912-54). ("FRS" stands for "Fellow of the Royal Society", a distinction Turing shares with Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose.)

Turing was homosexual (which is something else he shares with Isaac Newton). He was driven to his early death by homophobic bigotry and paranoia. Yet without him, and his breaking of the German Enigma code early in the War, the Allied forces would have found defeating Nazism much more difficult, if not impossible, and certainly at the cost of many more deaths over and above the eventual horrendous carnage.

That Turing is not more well known is a great injustice. In the fields of Mathematical Logic and Computer Science Turing is justly revered. Early in his career he settled one of a set of famous mathematical conjectures made by another great mathematician David Hilbert. To do so Turing invented what is now called the "Turing Machine". (The other Hilbert conjectures related to Turing's were settled by Kurt Godel.) The Turing Machine is a fundamental construct of the classical theory of computation. After the War Turing set about designing and building a digital computer. Along with the mathematician John von Neumann, Turing is responsible for the beginning of the Information Age in which we live today. His amazing realisation of the possibility and power of machine computation was directly inspired by his work at Bletchley Park on the Enigma "bomb" devices. Along the way Turing also founded the field of Artificial Intelligence with his landmark paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence" (Mind, Vol. LIX, No. 236, 1950) in which he invented the well-known "Turing Test".

Mathematicians and computer scientists continue to be inspired by Turing's archive. Study of the archive indicates he had conceived of what today computer scientists call a "neural net". Before his death he was trying to discover the underlying physical and chemical mechanisms of biological morphogenesis. He was "ahead of his time" all his life. I suggest you consult the archives of the Scientific American magazine.

Turing's pivotal role at Bletchley Park belatedly came to light when the paranoia of secrecy was relaxed 30 years after end of World War II. By breaking the German Enigma code early in the War, of which the Germans remained ignorant until the War's end, Turing was as important as any Colonel or General for the defeat of Hitler, in fact more so since the benefits of knowing exactly what the Germans were planning from the beginning of the War gave a substantial advantage to the Allied forces across all of the "theatres of war", an advantage that the Allies desperately needed. Turing saved the lives of those who later brutally persecuted him.

The Nazis foolishly believed, right up to the utter ruin and defeat of their ridiculous thousand year "Third Reich", that the Enigma code was unbreakable. That was a misguided and costly presumption but only because of Alan Turing.

Some references:
"Alan Turing: The Enigma", Andrew Hodges, Burnett Books, London, 1983
"The Cambridge Quintet: A Work Of Scientific Speculation", John L. Casti, Abacus, 1998
"Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid", Douglas Hofstadter, Penguin, 1979
"The Emperor's New Mind", Roger Penrose, Oxford University Press, 1989

Extract from Andrew Hodges’s review:
"The PR puffs put out by the production company further confuse the issue by referring to Turing's work and his role as founder of modern computer science. The intention seems to be to latch on to Turing's fame and importance to boost publicity for the film, yet to eliminate the inconvenient Turing from the story told in the film itself. It also leaves viewers with the suggestion that in some way Jericho is 'really' Turing, which if anything is even more offensive, given that he has a completely different personality. In particular, Jericho's story is a rip-roaring heterosexual drama with much jealous, violent action and a femme fatale, as different from Turing's world as it is possible to imagine. (Alan Turing was a shy gay man who at this point in 1943 was on the verge of full self-acceptance and a very modern-minded attitude of self-disclosure). An underlying assumption is perhaps that the world of science and mathematics is fair game for grave-robbing in a way that would not be countenanced in politics or literature; that all mathematics, science and engineering is a grey blur of people whose incomprehensible lives and ideas can be regarded as interchangeable.

Some people may think that it is valuable to have a film which illustrates morsels of mathematical work. I certainly cannot take an absolutist view, having acceded in the production of 'Breaking the Code' out of my biography of Alan Turing. But I am inclined to conclude that in the dangerous and basically impossible task of welding fiction and fact, it is essential to keep some basic grip on authenticity in thought and ideas. Props and technical details can be brilliantly lit while still shedding darkness on central truths."

Web references:
Alan Turning Alan Turning

Email this article


Alan Turing in 1946







© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018