‘Codebreaker’ Review: A 2011 Companion to ‘The Imitation Game’ About Alan Turing’s Psychological Side

‘Codebreaker’ Review: A 2011 Companion to ‘The Imitation Game’ About Alan Turing’s Psychological Side

By -Greg Brian- January 22, 2015 04:00PM EST
80% Review Score: 8 / 10
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Channel 4
Codebreaker (Britain's Greatest Codebreaker) (2012)

It seems just about every Oscar contender this year has a great counterpart movie from recently or long ago that would make for great double bills at home or in a movie theater. While I always try to showcase these cinematic complements through my second review of the week here at The Movie Network, sometimes you run across ones that provide even more depth than the more prominent film. Even though The Imitation Game is one of the few Oscar favorites I have yet to see or review, I managed to find an interesting docudrama on Netflix streaming called Codebreaker that takes you into more depth of what made the previously underappreciated scientist Alan Turing tick.

In this hybrid of both documentary and biopic (released in the U.S. in 2012), we see just how tortured Turing was being a homosexual in 1940s Britain when there was zero tolerance for the lifestyle. No matter if you were superior scientific British progeny, Britain wasn’t about to be lenient on any perceived deviant lifestyle in those days, which might seem startling considering their openness on so many other things long before then.

Living with this knowledge and not knowing how to fix it is the real focus of Codebreaker, with an intriguing performance by Ed Stoppard, a British actor who’s appeared in various notable British movies and TV shows. Despite not resembling Turing at all (Benedict Cumberbatch has more similar features and haircut), you have to wonder what the award consideration would have been had Stoppard played Turing instead in a movie. Since this was made for TV in Britain, plus the acting scenes fairly brief, it’s really only an intriguing what-if on an alternate view of Turing’s life.

Regardless, the fact that it focuses on Turing’s sessions with his psychologist just prior to his 1954 suicide is almost too personal. The script is taken directly from Turing’s own diary notes during these sessions, and you get the impression Britain was trying to “correct” homosexuality with counseling sessions. Ultimately, because Turing was vastly more intelligent than even his psychologist, the scenes depicting the last session show the scientist taking the time to understand himself.

The haunting part of this is that despite his apparent understanding of who he was and his role in scientific discovery, he knows he’s in a catch-22 situation. Before it reaches this point at the end, you have a chance to see a standard talking head documentary about Turing’s childhood and background. We see he still has relatives living today who remember him when alive. Also, historians and other scientists remind us that had Turing lived, scientific evolution in Britain would have flourished much faster.

Yes, it’s not hard to imagine computers arriving in the home much sooner had Turing not been ostracized in the early 1950s. While this movie doesn’t touch on the details behind his science like The Imitation Game does, we’re reminded of just how far ahead Turing’s ideas were. We even see a snapshot of the opening paragraphs to his initial computing concepts that were introduced already in 1936.

Throughout the one hour, 22 minutes of this feature, Stoppard plays Turing slowly revealing more to his psychologist about understanding his own homosexuality. Eventually, his thoughts lead to a profound way of viewing not only his computing principles, but also the unknown universe. His final line in the film before leaving his psychologist in the blink of an eye should be one of the most quoted lines in the world of real or theoretical science. It’s also the saddest one, especially when you realize that he has no choice but to die in order to find peace.

As with other recent historical movies like Selma and The Theory of Everything, we see textual updates at the end of what happened after the events of the movie. Irony abounds that Codebreaker is seemingly more accurate in its facts than the reported details in The Imitation Game, which prompted me to watch the former first before the latter. The most startling post-history fact here is the British government’s apology to Turing in 2009, 55 years after his suicide. Their statement of “We’re so sorry; You deserved so much better” still seems cold, outside the reality it was undoubtedly more sincere beyond the written word.


Tags: Codebreaker (Britain's Greatest Codebreaker) (2012), The Imitation Game (2014), Selma (2014), The Theory of Everything (2014), Ed Stoppard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, David Oyelowo
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