How many of us go to a movie or a play—even a really good one—and a couple of days or weeks later don’t remember a thing about it? Yes, movies have a role in relaxation and just plain momentary enjoyment, but there can be something said for the longer term pleasure of ruminating over the themes, questions and ideas presented in good art.
I have found Tarot and, more recently the 36 Lenormand cards, a great aid in meditating on ideas and art. This came into focus when I went to see the outstanding film The Imitation Game, about Alan Turing cracking the Enigma Code that helped end WWII. Themes also include the unconscionable way homosexuals have been treated and, ultimately, what is fair and just? I’ve put aside, for this discussion, the question of how accurate the film is—after all it is art, which serves to entertain and make us think and feel. [Trailer here.]
Note: if you know even the basics of Turing’s story, there is only one real spoiler below (so marked).
Before seeing The Imitation Game, I drew three cards each from the Petit Lenormand and a Tarot deck as separate readings. I wished to compare, in part, how the messages I received would differ in terms of plot versus philosophical themes, character dilemmas or spiritual content. I knew only the broadest outline of Turing’s achievement: the facts mentioned above.
I asked: “What should I focus on in this movie to gain the greatest insights?”
From the Malpertuis Lenormand deck I received:
Fox – Clover – Bear
Before the movie, I summed up my page of notes: “Risky strategy pays off by protecting Britain.”
Fox is cunning, trickery, strategy; and in modern Lenormand can mean a job.
Clover is luck, chance, risk, fortuitous, brief.
Bear is strength, protection or envy; modern meanings include investment, gain and authority figures like CEOs or police and military.
In my method of doing line-readings the first card is the subject, so Clover modifies Fox: a risky strategy. Clover also serves as a verb, “pays off” leading to a future result: protection (Bear). I also considered that these cards could indicate a fortuitous relationship between an employer (Bear) and a worker (Fox), although with Fox and Bear looking in opposite directions, they might have different agendas. Furthermore, Bear could resent and be envious of the smartness of Fox. After the movie, I also considered Fox+Clover as “code-breaking” and Bear as the fearsome enemy (Bear is described as a “ferocious beast” in the oldest text). So we simply have: “breaking the Nazi code.”
Imagine my surprise when the movie opens with a film of a bear! It turned out to be the logo of the production company: Black Bear. Part way into the movie Turing makes an unsuccessful attempt to tell a joke about two people running into a bear:
“The first one says, ‘You can’t outrun a bear.’ And the second one responds, ‘I don’t have to. I only have to outrun you.'”
This is a cunning strategy that can pay off when Fox is confronted by Bear. (Later I learned that Turing’s childhood toy bear—I seem to remember it being shown late in the film (?)—was his constant companion and is now featured in a display at Bletchley Park where the code-breaking took place.)
At a more abstract level, Turing could be seen as the intelligent Fox, with Bear representing his monster of a machine that he named Christopher—after his only childhood friend who protected him at school. Additionally, Fox, which can also represent something false, a faked ploy, is key to how these cards can relate to the “Turing Test” of artificial intelligence and especially Turing’s example of it in his “Imitation Game.”
From the 78-card Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck I received:
Tower reversed – Justice – Devil
Having three Major Arcana cards indicates deeply “destined” circumstances. I tried two summing ups: “Justice (logic/right) ends the War with Evil (material dominion).” or “Choosing materialism/shame (Devil as outcome) versus (Justice) a cover-up of flaws and problems (Tower reversed).”
Tower reversed is averting disaster; bailing out; impotence; blocking or overturning destruction.
Justice is measured rationality, seeing the pros & cons; choice; balance; decision; and, of course, law and justice.
The Devil is utmost materiality; power structures; ego; shame; blame. (The parallel to Bear as envious, ferocious beast is notable.)
I considered that Justice in the center represented a balancing act between the Tower R and the Devil. Was shame (the Devil) somehow balancing an end to war (Tower)? Or was it more about needing to find a solution (Justice) that would keep the pressure-cooker from exploding (Tower reversed) that would let evil reign?
Mild Spoiler Alert:
Contemplating these cards since seeing the film, I see a much deeper issue hinted at by the movie—perverted justice done by a blind institution that causes great harm. I’ve learned from reading Lenormand that we have to see cards as being modified by what surrounds them. Justice doesn’t have to be reversed to indicate injustice—the Devil following Justice can show the great evil that justice itself can do. When a person is seen as “inverted” (“inversion” is an old classification for homosexual) then grave injustices are done. A point has been made that the royal “pardon” of Turing for his conviction as a homosexual is a travesty as he was guilty under the law and therefore “justly” convicted as were the 47,000 other men who were also convicted (and not pardoned). What we are shocked by is that a hero who saved millions of lives should have been treated so badly—but is that just to all the others? These cards indicate the reaction of today’s viewers that the “justice” against “inversion” was heart-breakingly “wrong,” while, according to the time, it was not, despite the fact that we now see the institution itself (the law) as as a great evil.
Major Spoiler Alert:
Upon breaking the Enigma Code, the team is faced with the realization that they cannot stop the Nazi attacks as that would reveal to the Nazis the breaking of the code and the immediate termination of its use. British intelligence would have to allow the killing and destruction to continue in order to know what the Germans were up to. I see this horrifying realization as the main climax of the film, perfectly depicted by the Tarot cards: the breakthrough that could end the war and the decision to allow great evil to continue as the only rational thing to do.
Added: A final summarizing of these Tarot cards in terms of the film:
To achieve true justice and the reversal of a destructive course there will be collateral damage (bad things happen).
I still find the Tarot to be the much deeper of the two decks, but the Lenormand cards astound me again and again with their uncanny precision and succinctness. As mentioned above, I’ll leave to you the implications of these cards to the Turing Test of artificial intelligence and his “Imitation Game.” Feel free to comment on these below.
Regarding the biographical accuracy of this piece of fiction: there are major problems. I can only hope that the film (enjoyable in its own right but only as fiction) will lead you to find out more about the real Alan Turing:
Check out these other readings for films, plays and books: