Breaking the code for the Enigma machine was one of the greatest achievements of the Second World War. It didn’t happen easily and it didn't happen quickly. Watching a group of men sitting around trying to solve a puzzle might seem dull. It’s not.
Graham Moore, the screenwriter, and Morten Tyldum, the director, have done an excellent job of taking a very complex time and a very complex man and making them both accessible. It would be impossible to film everything that came together to break Enigma — it would take years. More importantly, it would be dull. This movie captures the highlights, those moments when true breakthroughs were achieved and progress was made. It is simplified, of course, but it is exciting and fun.
The man most responsible for this incredible achievement was Alan Turing. A fascinating human being, he is now credited with inventing the computer. That notion is a bit simplified, but he did initially propose the idea of a machine that could think and he was instrumental in building the earliest examples.
Like so many people whose brains outstrip the rest of ours, Turing was a mess. Socially inept and gay in a time when it was illegal to be so, he spent a lot of his life upsetting everyone who came into contact with him.
Which is why Benedict Cumberbatch deserves all the plaudits he is receiving for this role. He plays Turing as a man whose heart is buried, but not all that deeply. He is fiercely protective of himself, but the movie shows us why. The hidden homosexuality, the brilliance, the social awkwardness are all played in such a way that I found myself liking this man, rooting for him, and crying for him.
There is a wonderful scene in which Turing tries to win back the men with whom he is working after alienating them completely. Ironically, he brings them apples. Turing died (whether or not he committed suicide is now debated) by ingesting cyanide. A half eaten apple was discovered by his bed. If that image seems vaguely familiar to you…
Some of the best scenes are those in which Turing interacts with Joan Clarke, played by Keira Knightley. Both outsiders, they connect in a very real way and grow to care about each other deeply. It is to her that he is able to reveal that hidden heart, and through her, reveal it to us. She is the one to whom he listens and he is the one she allows to change her life. This relationship is clearly not physical, but the emotional intimacy radiates off the screen.
As wonderful as both Cumberbatch and Knightley are, the revelation in this movie is a young man named Alex Lawther who plays the young Turing. Having to portray someone like Turing, at the same time that someone like Cumberbatch is doing it, would be daunting at best. Lawther nails it.
The most moving scene in the entire movie is one in which the young Turing gets some very bad news. The camera moves in on Lawther’s face until it fills the screen. We have to watch as this boy’s heart breaks, yet he has to hide how much pain he is really in. It was a breathtaking scene that occurs rather towards the end of the movie. Everything we have learned about Turing comes into focus at that moment. Extraordinary storytelling and movie making.
This movie is not the definitive biography of Alan Turing. It is, however, faithful to the broad strokes and it manages to make people sitting around solving puzzles incredibly exciting. Three and a half out of four half eaten apples.
ChrisB wishes she were clever enough to solve a crossword in under six minutes.