Firstly, the review-ish bit. The movie is extremely well-done, with some fascinating characters and some really strong performances not just from Benedict and Keira Knightley but from the whole cast, really. Their motivations were complex but believable, and I think it's been a while since I've come across a female lead who so thoroughly broke the romantic stereotypes. It was really beautifully shot, and it did a good job of getting across the geekish joy (or obsession, in Alan's case) without having to delve into the nitty-gritty mathematical details, which I'm sure would have overwhelmed most people. Also, at making the politics of the situation (at least as much a part as the academic and character-driven parts) accessible and believable.
So if you enjoy biopics you'd probably like this. I did like all those things. But I also wasn't that moved by it at the end of the day, I think because biopics don't have a particularly strong narrative structure, especially one where you're telling about not just Turing's struggle to decrypt Enigma but his struggles with intimacy and lonelinees driven by his sexuality. Basically, this movie was two stories (at least two), one triumphant and one tragic - which made for a kind of unsatisfying climax and structure. It felt like I was supposed to pity the waste of ... the talent, just the tragedy of this man's untimely death? And, I don't know, in a war story where tragedy is all around, that's a bit underwhelming at the end of the day.
I'm going to spoil the ending, but only if you don't know the broad strokes of Alan Turing's life story. Turing is gay, and he's eventually convicted of "gross indecency" (basically, sex act with another man other than sodomy), offered chemical castration instead of jail time, and ultimately commits suicide. There's never a single explanation for suicide, but of course the hormonal manipulation and side effects of the chemical castration is going to be a big part of that "why." And of course I don't think sex acts should be criminalized, of course I think it's horrible such a great man should die so young and have his contributions go unrecognized for so long, or that anyone who wants that kind of companionship shouldn't be allowed to have it.
People aren't convicted under anti-gay laws because they had gay sex, any more than people who go to jail for possessing marijuana are there because they did illegal drugs. I'm one of the extremely few people I know my age who can honestly say she's never smoked marijuana, and none of the folks I know have gone to jail for it. Folks go to jail for doing drugs because they don't have the luxury of doing this privately. Because they're intoxicated in a more public way that gets them caught (like driving under the influence, for instance), or because they're from a socioeconomic class where we don't give folks the space to do drugs "off the radar."
And I guess I see something similar going on with Turing's arrest. He wasn't convicted because he had gay sex, but because he had gay sex and also had a wartime history that looked mysterious, and therefore suspicious, and therefore when the police brushed up against that they thought what he was hiding was a serious crime - so they investigated. It was a nexus of homophobia and actually breaking the law (though it shouldn't have been a crime in the first place), added to his war-time heroics that took away his right to have a personal life that didn't look suspicious. But there was good reason for that secrecy, it was necessary to save millions of lives, and so Turing's right to a private life starts to feel like a wartime casualty to me, which ultimately caught up with him.
And therein lies the problem. I'm just philosophical enough that I find myself asking, what's the difference between Alan's death and the ship that they allowed the Germans to sink, so they wouldn't give away the fact that they had broken the code. (Think the Coventry problem, they talked about in BBC Sherlock's "Belgravia.") You think that it's tragic those people had to die, but they had to die because otherwise even more people somewhere else would probably have died (if the Germans had worked out Enigma was broken and retooled their encryption). In much the way, it seems to me Turing was convicted not so much because he was gay but because he was gay and his wartime work made it impossible for him to be discreet about it. And not just the work with the computers but (less obvious spoilers here; though not huge IMO) the fact that the government put a suspected spy in his program and then never made it clear this wasn't Turing -- for similar reasons I'd imagine to why they didn't save that boat full of people, because doing so would have revealed they knew what the Soviets were up to with him -- made it impossible for Turing to be discreet about his liaisons, should he choose to do so. Which it seems quite clear he was trying to do. He just wasn't successful, as a result of his shadowy past from his war-work.
All of which makes e pity Turing, but it doesn't really mean I was moved by his story. Perhaps unsurprising, given how many tragic, early deaths there are in a war, and given that the whole movie was about the necessity of taking a long look at things, and not being so moved by the specific deaths you can't see the way to use math and statistics to minimize the deaths overall. It's about seeing the forest at the expense of the trees, and so turning around and saying I should now be exceptionally moved by this one particular spruce pine just doesn't work for me.
Or maybe it's just that pity doesn't realy affect me like I wish it id. I've simply seen too much suffering in my life to move from "that's so sad that it happened" to "that shouldn't have been allowed to happen." I don't know. I keep thinking I should have been moved, I wish I was... but I just wasn't.
Beautifully told movie, though, for those of you into this genre. It's well worth seeing just for the simply stunning score and the interesting history, even if it doesn't affect you that strongly as a whole.