Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Imitation Game and Asperger's

Alan Turing was a genius of unimaginable talent, yet tortured by demons unseen but felt as surely as he felt the blows of angry classmates and the ugliness of British laws against gays. This man who would essentially win WWII by breaking the German's secret code in the Enigma Machine and pave the way for future scientists and mathematicians who would create our computers, was a "misfit." His creation, Christopher, was the machine unlike any other and it was created by a man unlike any other. Gone too soon after torturous "treatments" forced on him by the British government.

Watching "The Imitation Game" I couldn't help but wonder why I kept feeling it reminded me of another Weinstein film, "The King's Speech." Perhaps it was the stutter, the painful containment of the primary character or perhaps there was a thread here that had an undercurrent of something else. Whatever it is, it's immaterial and I'll push down the temptation to explore it further.

Did Turing have Asperger's or was it just an overriding uneasiness because he knew that being gay was a criminal offense in Great Britain? I think it may have been both. As he is presented in the film, he has an absorption with mathematics and an incredible difficulty with human interactions. But we really don't know if that's so because he did have a close friend in school--a friend who had a fatal illness that eventually took his life.  But Asperger's doesn't necessarily mean there are no close, loving relationships, only extraordinary intensity in some subjects. Turing had that. I haven't read the book on which the film is based, but if it is a true representation of Turing, he did suffer.

Aside from Turing's life details as portrayed in the film, one aspect sparked a memory and it relates to the secrecy that surrounded anyone working for the WWII effort. It is a memory related to a conversation with my mother many years ago.

Women in our neighborhood, if they were lucky, got jobs in a local factory that made communications components for the military. When they went into work, they were restricted as to what they could carry and when they left, their handbags were inspected. So, much to my dismay, my mother told me that a neighbor had smuggled out several detail-for-detail scale models of at least three ships. Anyone going into her living room could see the models displayed proudly on the fake mantelpiece over the fake fireplace. So much fakery and all with the intention of supporting a societal rank that never existed and never would exist for her or anyone else on that block.

How on earth could she have done that? I never learned because I don't think my mother ever explored that particular topic. After all, it would have been an offense that would have sent that woman to jail and she had five kids and an alcoholic husband at home. But how could she put everything at risk for three model ships? Didn't she understand the gravity of the situation?

We had neighborhood patrols roaming the area at night and any hint of untoward behavior related to the war or the military would have sent shock waves all the way up to the FBI. This woman could have been arrested and thrown into jail where, I'm sure, they would not have believed she was just a naive housewife who wanted to show off where she worked. How foolish.

The film does touch on some of the incredible lengths to which governments try to protect their state secrets and I'd forgotten how close we'd come to being involved in intrigue. Would her actions have resulted in more than just a brief interrogation. Would she have been questioned until she "broke" and confessed to something she never did and never had any intention of doing? No one can say, but looking back now it was something out of a fiction writer's bag of tricks.