THE AWARD-WINNING FILM ABOUT THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF GAY, WWII HERO ALAN TURING
~ by chris carpenter ~
The smartphones, desktop, laptop and notebook computers upon which most in the 21st century have grown dependent—which in truth also run the engines of our modern society—likely would not exist if it weren’t for the little-known genius Alan Turing. Born in London, England 100 years ago, this brilliant mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist not only laid the foundations for modern computing, he cracked the Nazis’ secret naval Enigma code, turning the tide of World War II against the Germans.
This unsung hero was also an openly gay man at a time when the vast majority of gay people were deep in the closet. Codebreaker, the new documentary, is currently removing the veil that has obscured Turing and his dramatic contributions to history and modern technology.
In addition, rising star Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the title detective on BBC’s Sherlock and the central villain in this summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness, has been signed to play Turing in another upcoming dramatized biography.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is among the experts interviewed in Codebreaker who attest to Turing’s revolutionary genius. Turing began to develop computers from the theoretical to the actual in 1948, with the intention of “putting something like a human consciousness in an inorganic machine.” In this regard, Turing is also considered to be the father of artificial intelligence.
Sadly, Turing would not live to see his vision realized. He was arrested on charges of gross indecency with a younger man whom Turing had accused of burglary. The authorities’ investigation of the burglary led the discovery of said affair, making that the focus rather than the crime committed against him.
Homosexuality was still illegal in Great Britain at the time and Turing was convicted in 1952. As a condition of his sentencing, he was forced to undergo chemical castration through hormone replacement therapy. This was, in a cruel irony, the same abusive technique that the Nazi doctors Turing helped to defeat had subjected many Jewish men to in the concentration camps.
The physiological and psychological effects, combined with the intense public disgrace, drove Turing to take his life in 1954 at the age of 41.
The British government formally apologized for its mistreatment of Turing, but not until 2009, 55 years after his death. Today, Turing is increasingly revered for his mathematical brilliance and advanced technological vision, his heroism in the fight against Nazi Germany and his pioneering honesty about his homosexuality.
If he could be “naïve,” as one commentator describes Turing in Codebreaker, he can also be regarded more positively as optimistic, even if to a fault.
Patrick Sammon, executive producer and creator of the documentary Codebreaker, hadn’t heard of Turing before he came across his story while visiting the Smithsonian Institute in 2004. “It was a long road,” Sammon said of his film’s development during a recent phone interview with The Rage Monthly. “I’m on my third career now, after being a TV reporter and documentary filmmaker for PBS, with another detour leading the Log Cabin Republicans.”
It was after his decision to try filmmaking full-time that Sammon discovered Turing, while researching ideas for possible future movies. “At the time, I stuck it in my file folder,” recalls Sammon, who is now 38 years old. “I came across it again in 2009; It was that September when I said, ‘I’m going to get this made’ and started to get the production team together.”
Codebreaker is excellent and engrossing due in large part to the work of director Clare Beavan, editor Leigh Brzeski and actor Ed Stoppard (The Pianist) who plays Turing in several dramatic vignettes throughout the course of the film.
Sammon partnered with Channel 4 in the U.K. to produce an initial, British version of Codebreaker that was broadcast there in 2011. He and his team have since re-edited the film to make a uniquely American cut.
This is the version currently being shown throughout the U.S. in theaters via a new approach to exhibition entitled Theatrical on Demand, or TOD for short. When Codebreaker gets enough demand from a particular city or region through the website todpix.com, a screening or longer run of the film is scheduled.
“We’ve played in nine cities so far,” Sammon reported. “This builds on the Video on Demand (VOD) model, but it is great to see this film on the big screen and with other people.” TOD has a relationship with AMC theaters and, according to Sammon, “they really market films well to the LGBT community.”
Codebreaker has also been screened several times to date as a fundraiser for local LGBT community centers in different parts of the country. “It’s been seen by more than two million people around the world at this point,” Sammon says of his film, the first he has ever produced. “People’s first response (to Turing’s story) is usually outrage, but they then feel inspired by it; He was someone who thought outside the box and was a really creative, unusual man.”
More personally, Sammon shared about what he has learned as a gay man from Turing and what he hopes audiences will take from his film. “I was really inspired for myself, by this outsider’s personality and I hope it helps people to better appreciate our differences whatever they may be: gender, sexual orientation, race, etc.”
The producer and his team were most intent on “doing Turing justice” with Codebreaker. I asked Sammon whether he had heard about the announced biopic in which Cumberbatch will star. He had and stated: “It’s going to be good, it’s all good; the more people that know about Turing, the better.”
It is enormously inspiring to realize that the digital age in which we now live was ushered in by an openly gay man who also played a critical role in vanquishing Hitler and the Nazis, thereby ensuring greater freedom for those persecuted by them including LGBT people.
Despite his achievements, Turing suffered greatly and unnecessarily during his life. We all owe him a tremendous debt.
For more information about Codebreaker, visit turingfilm.com.