Dr. Alan Turing may have saved his country from the horrors of a Nazi occupation. At the very least he saved untold thousands from starvation and drowning during the height of the U-Boat attacks on allied shipping during World War II by cracking the Enigma code which had allowed their movements to remain a secret for the greater part of the war. In what can only be described as true cruelty and injustice, his lifesaving efforts cost him his own at the hands of his government.
Turing was many things. A brilliant scientist, a mathematician, the grandfather of artificial intelligence, a spy, and most certainly a hero. He was also gay. That simple fact led to his classification as a sexual deviant and a sentence that included chemical castration, government surveillance, and expulsion from the highly classified projects he was working on to safeguard the very country whose actions eventually drove him to suicide.
One of the terms used by police when arresting Dr. Turing was “gross indecency.” I will use that phrase now to describe the efforts of a new film which not only fails to tell the true and heartbreaking story of Dr. Turing but also sanitizes it and transforms it into a love story set in Bletchley Park, a place Dr. Turing described as a “sexual desert.” The movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Turing and Keira Knightly as fellow code-breaker Joan Clarke. Turing was briefly engaged to Joan Clarke but broke of the engagement saying that he refused to live a lie. Hollywood seems anxious to embrace the lie for the film entitled The Imitation Game.
While life may imitate art, in the case of the life of Dr. Turing injustice is being imitated as a perverse form of flattery. By not embracing one of the most important aspects of the doctor’s life the filmmakers are obfuscating the political nature of his life and his death. He was a man convicted by his government, a government that is at present discussing righting the terrible wrong it committed with a posthumous pardon. In choosing not to show the persecution onscreen the filmmakers are whitewashing history and again ignoring the injustice while hoping to profit from Dr. Turing’s life. One cannot be ethically separated from the other, especially in today’s climate of scrutiny on bullying and LGBT youth suicides.
Dr. Turing created a test which bears his name. It is one of the first thought experiments on machine intelligence and the nature of personhood. He came up with the test at a time when his own personhood was being challenged. If we cannot acknowledge the entire man that he was in a filmic adaption of his life, then Hollywood has truly failed the Turing Test. A Gross Indecency indeed.