Enigma is an ultimately disappointing movie. Somehow it takes the fascinating story of Alan Turing at Bletchley Park, and turns it into a conventional love tale plus spy caper. And it completely omits the spirit of joy and discovery that deep mathematics embodies. Perhaps the writer and director were colorblind to those wavelengths and failed to realize what they left out.

Yet buried within the film Enigma is an extraordinarily touching scene --- a gem of an encounter that brings tears to the eyes of anyone who has ever worked on a small, incomprehensible fragment of a big collaborative project ... and for anyone who looks back at her life and dreams of a chance to speak to her younger self, to explain the meaning of what at the time seemed senseless.

First, a bit of context: the protagonist quasi-Turing character, for various weak plot reasons, has traveled to a remote radio listening post where rows of female uniformed officers copy encrypted German telegraphic morse-code transmissions. Their transcripts of gibberish are raw material for the Ultra decipherment process. A visitor from Bletchley Park is a Big Deal. As the tour concludes, one of the shy women takes off her headphones and works up enough courage to speak to the VIP.

She, hesitantly:
    I don't mean to bother you, Sir ... but it is important, isn't it? I know we shouldn't ask, but I mean, no one ever tells us. You are making sense of it? It is important?

He, after a pause:

She, with emotion:
    This is our only war, you see, in here --- beep, beep, bloody beep. And it's always nonsense, nonsense, nonsense.

He, slowly and quietly:
    Yes. We are making sense of it ... and it is important.

She smiles, nods, and turns back to put on her headphones and return to work.

As do we all ...

TopicLiterature - TopicArt - TopicLife - 2003-01-29


I did like your comment very much on the Enigma movie.
I did not share your disappointment with the movie. I did like
the movie very much, I have seen it over six times with many
people dear to me.....I am a scientist myself...

I did not share your dissapointment because even though the
underlying plot is of the thrill of mathematical discovery,
science, discovery, is done by human beings of flesh and blood,
with their own passions and desires. To remove code-breaks,
mathematicians, scientists, from their 'human' content is
artificial!!, and although colored with other external factors,
the movie is a joy to see.

The moment you describe is indeed, superb. There are other just
as precious to me, for many other reasons.

Best regards,

(correlates: ReligionOfTraining, OnSolitude, SillyAnniversaries, ...)