A surprisingly well-done exploration of mad genius, it reminded me of other artfully shot films in the genre, such as Amadeus.
We never do get the neatly wrapped pop psychology explanation for Bobby Fischer, but the film seems to posit a parallel: the pawn sacrificed in the Cold War chess game. This would relate to Fischer’s untreated descent into madness, but also to the government’s using him to score political points against the Soviets.
Obviously Fischer was mentally challenged, if one can call it that, prior to taking on the Soviet empire for the world chess championships. I didn’t know anything about him, or this story, but my early childhood was indeed affected by his saga. I had neighbors who lived upstairs–early 70s–who were deep into chess, studying books, magazines, and they needed fodder. So they taught me the game too. The name Bobby Fischer probably was mentioned, but I had no interest in him at the time. The game, however, is one of my favorites.
The lad upstairs was trained by his chess-obsessed father. So he was good. He taught me. I came to discern patterns in his thinking, and he kicked my ass a lot of times before I started turning the tables. Eventually it became a heated match, and he may have been more likely to win, but I still had a fighting chance. I never did figure out how he used his knights so effectively.
Who knew that it was the mad Brooklynite who had started it all?
Fischer was an anomaly, obsessed to the point of insanity, blinkered, focused, and apparently suffered from misophonia. This makes for highly subjective filmmaking, as the sounds and stress mount to destroy his concentration at crucial moments.
It’s difficult to make an interesting cinematic experience about two guys playing a board game. Pawn Sacrifice manages to pull it off.
Interestingly the film shows us a bigger picture. Fischer’s paranoia wasn’t all that unwarranted given the context. His opponent, the Russian grandmaster Spassky, shows similar signs of paranoia, with even greater cause, as he is trailed and surveilled by a KGB contingent. The film shows us the psychological destruction that came out of the Cold War, affecting all, dehumanizing and twisting the ethics of all concerned.
I think that’s why I was so impressed with the film. It operates on several levels. It provides parallels and supports its themes throughout, and that is what great cinema and all great literature must do.