lederhosen: (Default)
lederhosen ([personal profile] lederhosen) wrote2015-01-04 11:14 am

Travel, Imitation Game

My paper has been accepted for NTTS in Brussels for March, so I'll be overseas in ARGH ONLY TWO MONTHS AWAY BETTER RENEW PASSPORTS! and travelling on via Iceland, UK, and USA as part of Rey's 50th-birthday holiday trip.

We saw "The Imitation Game" yesterday. I had mixed feelings about it...

TIG presents Alan Turing as solidly autistic. He takes things absolutely literally, he gets the rest of his team off-side because he has no concept of "tact", etc etc. (I note Cumberbatch has rejected description of his Sherlock and Turing as autistic; I agree on Sherlock, but film!Turing is certainly written with strongly autistic traits.

On the plus side: it's a sympathetic portrayal of a queer autistic character that is supportive of neurodiversity generally. Good for them.

However... the real Turing was NOT autistic, at least not to anywhere near the extent that's shown in this film, and some of the RL-inspired stuff that happens in the film doesn't fit well with the way Turing's been characterised.

For example: early in the film, when Turing's boss (old-fashioned British military stereotype) doesn't give him what he wants, Turing writes directly to Churchill and persuades him to put Turing in charge. (IRL, Turing's team wrote the letter together, and I think it was more about resourcing than who should be in charge.) It's hard to see film!Turing as a man able to write a persuasive letter in that context.

Later on, when they crack Enigma (inevitably due to a moment of inspiration down at the pub), it's Turing who recognises that they can't use all the information because the Germans would realise that their code is broken. Leaving aside the fact that MI6 already knew this stuff, film!Turing is about the last person in the world who should've been able to figure it out.

It's established that Turing has had several undetected affairs with men, leaving me to wonder - how? In a time and place where homosexuality was illegal and covert, how does a man who'd need a neon sign saying I WOULD LIKE TO TOUCH YOUR PENIS ever manage to hook up without getting outed?

There were other aspects that bugged me on the technical side:

- The great epiphany at the pub is the realisation that they can simplify the search by looking for a "crib" (known plaintext) - which left me wondering, if they weren't already doing that, how on earth did Turing's computer know when it had found the right settings?

- The Germans changed their settings at midnight. At the start, the team is shown racing in an attempt to crack codes, but as soon as midnight strikes without a solution, they're defeated and they have to start over the next day. Uh, no... certainly the sooner you can decrypt it the more valuable it is, but a message sent using the old settings doesn't become worthless on the stroke of midnight.

- When they decrypt German messages, Peter Hilton notices that a German U-boat pack is converging on the ship where his brother is serving. (No such brother existed IRL, but evidently they felt they needed to make the "we can't use this information" bit more personal.) How? Seems unlikely the Germans would have known the names of the boats in that convoy, and from the Allied side Peter shouldn't have known more than "my brother's on a destroyer that does convoy runs so it COULD be one of those".

- Their exploit involved using German weather transmissions as a predictable crib. IRL, the Germans used a code within the cypher (e.g. KAHB might be "weather fine, no wind"), (a) to shorten the message they had to send and (b) because the Germans KNEW the danger of predictable cribs, even if some of their operators got a bit careless, so part of the challenge was reconstructing the German weather codes.

Some of these would be deliberate choices to simplify the story a bit for audiences - but I've been spoiled by Robert Harris' "Enigma", which IMHO did a much better job on the technical side of things.

- At the end of the war, Stewart Menzies (who seems to be the only man in MI6) tells them that their discovery will be immensely valuable in the post-war world (even though he's already knowingly allowed Cairncross to leak everything to the Soviets). So therefore they have to disband the team, burn all their notes, and never speak of it again.

Um, what? So how exactly is MI6 or whoever going to make use of this with all the notes burned and the experts gone?

- They burn their notes in a great big bonfire outside, with sheets of paper wafting about in the flames. Nice visual, but horrendously insecure document destruction!

- Film acknowledges that somehow, despite everything being burned and all the records being suppressed for 50 years*, this became the foundation for computer technology. So how did that work again?

*actually it was 30 years; otherwise it would've been very hard for Robert Harris to publish "Enigma" in 1982!

All in all - I think it meant well, but tried too hard to squeeze it into the Lone Genius vs Establishment tropes and dumbed down the mathematics too much. If nothing else, they could've spent a couple of minutes just showing how the Enigma is set up in order to explain what it is they're trying to crack.

One odd bit: at the start of the movie, Turing is shown doing something dangerous with cyanide in 1951. Later on, when he starts trying to improve relations with his team, he gives them each an apple. This really felt like foreshadowing - Turing died from eating a cyanide-laced apple - but they never gave that info, never referenced the apple or the cyanide again.
tcpip: (Default)

[personal profile] tcpip 2015-01-05 01:33 pm (UTC)(link)
Always nice to get a paper accepted, doubly so when it's overseas, and even more so when it's in Europe!