a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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The Turing Enigma (2011)
Peter Wild (Screenwriter and Director)

Maths professor Jonah Block finds himself in possession of a 50 year old postcard from Alan Turing over which people have been killed. He quickly realizes it is the (literal) key to decoding a series of postcards Turing sent to friends just before his suicide. Mixed in with the modern adventure story are scenes featuring Alan Turing arguing with a government official.

Of course, the Turing story is interesting and moving. The fact that almost nobody knew about his achievements or awards due to the Official Secrets Act, the way he was persecuted for his homosexuality, his role in the foundations of computer science and mathematical biology...these are all addressed and remain emotionally potent. But, they are also things that have already appeared in many other works, both fictional and non-fictional. So, unless this is the first time you are seeing it, this aspect will have lost its edge.

This is not the worst low-budget film I've ever seen, but it has some major flaws. There are odd artistic choices (such as the decision to show the modern scenes in black and white but the historical ones with Turing in color), and the sort of problems that are hard to avoid in a low budget film (inconsistent acting and sound quality). But mostly, it was a decision about the mathematics which I think limits the audience that will appreciate this movie. There is quite a bit of math that is mentioned, often just a matter of "name dropping": Georg Cantor, Andre Bloch, Fermat, P. vs NP, Gödel, etc.. The real MacGuffin of the story is the Riemann Hypothesis and its (supposed) ability to break the cryptographic methods utilized for internet security. The thing is, this turns out to be too much math too quickly for people who aren't already familiar with it. (In many reviews I've seen, people complain that they had no idea what was going on because there was too much math.) On the other hand, nothing particularly interesting or novel is done with these ideas from the point of view of someone who already knows them.

For me, although it was nice to see all of these ideas grouped together in a movie, it honestly was not worth an hour and a quarter of my life to watch it. Its use of "I Am Nern" as an anagram for "Riemann" for me is representative of the quality of this work as mathematical fiction. Okay, it is mathematical...but not particularly clever, entertaining, or enlightening.

Here's a taste of the mathematical dialogue:

(quoted from The Turing Enigma)

Block: Why kill him? This is a solution to the greatest maths problem in history.

Moran: One problem solved, more created. In America, research papers on the Riemann Hypothesis have to be vetted by the National Security Agency. That's why we sponsor research in Europe.


Block: Leave me alone, I just want to solve a maths problem.

Moran: Not a maths problem, THE maths problem. And it will cause chaos.

Block: Who cares? This is maths...something pure.

Moran: The world care, Jonah.

FYI According to IMDB, Peter Wild also has a short film about Evariste Galois.

I'll say just a bit more about the mathematics in The Turing Enigma in a spoiler which appears below. But first, if it is still working, you can watch the entire film on YouTube here:

Spoiler Alert

Spoiler Alert Stop reading now if you don't want to know the "surprise ending" of the movie

Spoiler Alert

So, it turns out that Riemann himself discovered an algorithm that accurately predicted the locations of prime numbers. He only knew it empirically, but had no proof that the algorithm worked nor of the hypothesis itself. This information was lost because his papers were burned after his death, but rediscovered during World War II and presented to Turing for verification. Turing was forbidden from discussing Riemann's algorithm under the Official Secrets Act. (Why?!? That seems anachronistic. Even the character Block seems to know that this doesn't make sense.) And so he sends off the postcards describing the algorithm before eating the poison apple.

More information about this work can be found at
(Note: This is just one work of mathematical fiction from the list. To see the entire list or to see more works of mathematical fiction, return to the Homepage.)

Works Similar to The Turing Enigma
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. The Imitation Game by Morten Tyldum (director) / Graham Moore (screenplay)
  2. Travelling Salesman by Andy Lanzone (writer) / Timothy Lanzone (director and writer)
  3. Enigma by Robert Harris / Tom Stoppard
  4. Bone Chase by Weston Ochse
  5. Fermat's Room (La Habitacion de Fermat) by Luis Piedrahita / Rodrigo Sopeña
  6. Mercury Rising by Harold Becker (director)
  7. Sekret Enigmy by Roman Wionczek
  8. The Cipher by John C. Ford
  9. Turing's Delirium by Edmundo Paz Soldan
  10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows by Guy Ritchie (director)
Ratings for The Turing Enigma:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
5/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

MotifProving Theorems, Real Mathematicians, Alan Turing,
TopicAlgebra/Arithmetic/Number Theory,
MediumFilms, Available Free Online,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)