Alan Turing

22 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FILM: The Imitation Game; Maps to the Stars.

THE IMITATION GAME may overstate Alan Turing’s contribution to breaking the Nazis’ Enigma codes yet there can be no doubt about its excellence as it charts the triumph and tragedy of the clandestine life he had to endure. Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) was a mathematical genius with a complex personality that made him few friends, and having to suppress his homosexuality added another facet to his antisocial behaviour. But it has never been seen before in public, and it provides an exciting insight into how Alan Turing, its author, formulated his theories about mathematical notation and computer science, according to Bonhams auction house.

The only one to encourage him was Joan Clark (Keira Knightley), whose special skills earned her a place in the elite team given the near-impossible task of cracking a code that was changed daily and had hundreds of millions of permutations; when Turing pressed ahead with his claim that, given time and money, he could solve it, she stood by him even as failures earned him his superiors’ contempt. But Gandy kept something special for himself: A notebook of Turing’s hand-written thoughts, from the period during which he was trying to break the famed Enigma Code.

Eventual success created a terrible moral dilemma: if the Germans realised their plans could be thwarted, they might find a new means of communication, so sacrifices had to be made to preserve the illusion. This was at a crucial point in Turing’s career, when he and other code breakers were consumed with cracking Germany’s notorious Enigma code in Bletchley Park, England.

The auction — scheduled for April 13 in New York — comes months after the release of “The Imitation Game,” a biopic of Turing that revived interest in his life among the general public. Turing was gay, a criminal offense in England at the time, and he was forced to undergo hormonal therapy to “cure” him of his sexual orientation after a 1952 conviction.

He was as accustomed to hard choices as to mathematical problems; from his experience as a pupil with a crush on a schoolmate to the sham of a meaningful relationship with Clark, he was conflicted and found absolute certainty only in his work. Mortem Tyldum’s direction of a first-rate script by Graham Moore (based on a book by Andrew Hodges) uses the framework of Turing being questioned by a detective (Rory Kinnear) about an apparent robbery. Cassandra Hatton, a senior specialist in the fine books and manuscripts department at Bonhams, wrote in an email that it’s “hard to say” whether increased attention from the film would boost the expected price for the notebook. “Turing items, especially in recent years fetch strong prices at auction,” Hatton noted, adding: “Items relating to other major scientists such as Crick or Watson have seen 7-figure prices at auction.” Gandy died in 1995, and the notebook stayed in his possession, kept private until his death.

Cumberbatch is superb in a difficult, delicate role, and receives impressive support from Knightley and a cast that includes Charles Dance, Mark Strong and Matthew Goode. A cursory glance at the notebook shows why: The mathematician used the blank spaces in Turing’s notebook to write down the content of his own dreams. David Cronenberg’s MAPS TO THE STARS has everything: a satire on Hollywood’s self-absorption, a couple of ghosts, violent deaths, sex, nudity and pyromania, with incest hovering over all the unpleasantness. But he held back the notebook, because of what else it contained: a private journal in which he recorded his dreams and discussed intimately personal matters, including his own homosexuality. “It seems a suitable disguise to write in between these thoughts of Alan’s on notation, but possibly a little sinister; a dead father figure, some of whose thoughts I most completely inherited,” Gandy wrote at the beginning of the journal.

According to material supplied by Bonhams, the notebook was not seen by anyone – except a Jungian analyst who had treated both Gandy and Turing, instructing them both to keep dream diaries – until Gandy’s death, in 1995. She gets a job of sorts as an assistant to Havana (Julianne Moore), an actress hoping to play the lead in a remake of a picture that made her late mother famous. Then there is the peculiar Weiss family: Stafford (John Cusack), a self-help guru and Havana’s masseur; and Cristina (Olivia Williams), who manages the burgeoning career of Benji (Evan Bird), their son whose success in Bad Babysitter and its proposed sequel has made him an egotistical monster. Cronenberg highlights human frailties and follies that are open to public scrutiny, subjected to gossip, and perverted by fame, drugs, ambition and other addictions. In its news release, the auction house quoted the Turing scholar Andrew Hodges as saying: “Alan Turing was parsimonious with his words and everything from his pen has special value.

This notebook shines extra light on how, even when he was enmeshed in great world events, he remained committed to free-thinking work in pure mathematics.”

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