By: Kelly FitzGerald
Considering the 2017 Academy Awards are happening this weekend, I chose to write on a film that was nominated for a seven Oscars in 2015 (which happens to be the year I attended for Team Oscar). This was the year of Birdman, Boyhood, Whiplash, Gone Girl, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. It was also the year of The Imitation Game, which I thought was highly undervalued. Though it won ‘Best Adapted Screenplay,’ it told a story more profound than any award could recognize—the story of Alan Turing.
Being one of my favorite movies, I chose to watch The Imitation Game a second time this weekend. Since we all know it was beautifully adapted, written, and shot (hence the Academy Award nominations), I chose to pay closer attention to the actual math side of things this time around. The reason for this is partly because I participated in a math theory course this past summer, which heavily influenced my personal understanding of mathematical approaches respective to education standards and it’s unfortunate push towards math as an entirely left-brained process.
One important connection I made was between Alan Turing and Paul Erdos (The Man Who Loved Only Numbers). Though I have not seen any cinematic portrayals of the latter, I couldn’t help but draw some parallels, carefully observing Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting (as Alan Turing). Inventive and genius, yet abnormal and socially inept are some of the first terms that come to mind when describing Turing’s personality. Many of these characteristics overlap with Paul Erdos, a genius in the math department but a bit helpless in the social sphere. In both cases, some level of normalcy (as socially defined) appears to have been sacrificed, made up for by extreme success in the mathematical world. In this way, both individuals present math as a lifestyle rather than an interest, hobby, or profession, while also reinforcing the ‘mad scientist’ character trope. I think that a grave misunderstanding comes from this, however, as viewers associate mathematical success with being socially ‘off-key’ What these characters exemplify, however, is the beautiful possibilities that emerge from the left and right sides of the brain working conjunctively. This film is a perfect mirroring of Turing’s personality, combining beautiful aesthetics and storytelling techniques (right side of brain) with subject matter that is uniquely mathematical.
Though clearly focused on his end goal (cracking Enigma), Cumberbatch’s character meets success because of his loyalty to methodological thinking. He, unlike many of the others trying to help solve Enigma, was creative enough to think of a machine that would decode Germany’s encrypted messages. Most importantly, he was sure enough of his solution that he could apply it to a larger scale, one that saved lives. This is a great example of a “start small” method, which attacks larger problems by understanding the most essential parts, then expanding it to “N” number of problems.
The most evocative part of The Imitation Game will always be, for me, the ending. **SPOILER ALERT** After committing an hour and half to learning about Turing’s mathematical gift and witnessing the immense impact it had on society, it is impossible to part from the film without feeling disgusted by the government’s actions towards his homosexuality. Arrested and imprisoned for illegally identifying as gay, Turing eventually committed suicide after being prescribed hormonal treatments. To think that a man who saved so many lives was deemed a criminal because of his preference for men is beyond unsettling. It is one of the reasons I wanted to watch this film again, out of respect for Alan Turing’s contributions.