Updated: Dec 31, 2020
If you have read about World War 2 in class, perhaps you are familiar with the famous Enigma machine, an encryption device used by Nazi Germany. The code to this machine was considered to be virtually impossible to solve, until mathematician Alan Turing was recruited to work with the Government Code and Cypher School in 1938. Award winning director Morten Tyldum takes the story of Turing’s work on cracking Enigma, while simultaneously pariring it with the struggle of identifying with homosexuality in that time frame in the 2014 historical film The Imitation Game. The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley supplies the viewer with a golden degree of acting (maybe I’m biased with my appreciation for these actors!).
Along with the mathematical genius of the main story line, noting this accompanying theme is important to understand the historical context behind being gay in England in this time period, as seen with the development of Turing’s personal experience. Viewers are supplemented with a backstory of a young Turing and his relationship with Christopher Morcum, revealing the internal feelings that were closeted. Towards the end of the movie the same protruding theme of Turing’s sexual orientation is asserted when charges are made against him for being gay.
Many doubts are placed into Turing’s character throughout the film, as a secular, more radical way of solving the Enigma code is placed forward by him. The traditional mathematical method used to solve it was manual and slow, making Turing’s proposition of building an early computer - a large, awkward dashboard of interconnecting wires and gears- seemed bizarre to fund and work on. Adding to this element is the introduction of the character of Joan Clarke, who served as the only woman on the team of bright thinkers. Breaking the norm of a generally male-dominated field, the interweaving of Clarke’s story adds a fundamental layer that only continues to prove the ingenuity of this film. It’s the final touch that breaks the norm of the 40s, by adding in all of these seemingly taboo concepts of the set time period: coming up with a bizarre new algorithm, women dominating the work scene, and homosexuality. One final blast to the already atypical storyline. The addition of Clarke balances out the male dominated scene, still making her a leading character despite being of the opposite sex.
Not only this, but by showing the sincere reality and judgement Alan Turing had to face in his time brings more authenticity to this historical film. Challenges that highlight exactly why the viewer should continue watching. Not for a cheesy storyline with a romanticized happy ending. For the real, unfeigned experiences of an individual.
The film encapsulates a more detailed, realistic perspective that brings to light the authenticity of the relationship and brief marriage of Turing and Clarke, for viewers to learn more about. It feels as if a new discovery of layers and levels, telling a story in such a way that adds an alluring charm, topped with a poignant connection that extends beyond being partners, or even colleagues. As Clarke “knew it all along” about Turing’s orientation, the relationship nonetheless represents an intimate connection between two confidantes, absorbing the attention, thoughts and feelings of the viewer in emotional complexity.
Ultimately, a climax of finally cracking the code to Enigma, is a culmination of the three parallel storylines working together to produce a historical film with depth of intellect, sentiment and brilliance of illustrating the issues regarding, gender and homosexuality, illustrated to move beyond a mere glance at the life of Alan Turing.
Ronnie Volman is an associate editor at The Incandescent Review. She is an experienced writer with previously completed courses at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. In her free time, she likes to hike, read novels, and watch Netflix.