Movie review: Pawn Sacrifice (2015)

Genius and madness go hand in hand. Or at least that is the common assumption. Bobby Fischer certainly had his eccentricities. Pawn Sacrifice shows them all as well as the arrogance and the mistreatment of others that accompanied them.

The movie depicts Bobby’s obsession with chess at a young age. His mom takes him to a chess master in the city to either develop his skills or in hopes that his obsession will burn out. In any case, his love of chess doesn’t end but consumes him. He becomes more demanding and bombastic as he gets older, often making impossible demands on those around him.

The movie portrays him as a prima donna. He often acts as a spoiled brat and throws tantrums. Not paid enough, he doesn’t show up for a match. Not quiet enough for him to think during a match, he walks out.

Why was this tolerated? It was the Cold War and Fischer of Russian descent was a pawn in the fight to prove that the West was better. Other races occurred in space and defense. And then there was the battle to dominate chess. Fischer was another person sacrificed in the proxy wars between the US and the USSR.

Fischer’s erratic behavior presumably pointed to a mental illness. But rather than get help, others around him sought to use him for their own “patriotic” ends. Fischer manages somehow to be even-keel enough to outlast the 1972 World Chess Championship without the matchup ending in him walking away or forfeiting.

Pawn Sacrifice is well made but a rather sad look at a chess master who devoted his life to chess, was a pawn in other’s wars, and was bedeviled by paranoia and anti-Semitic beliefs—made even more tragic by his own Jewish heritage. In the closing frames, the movie touches on his adult life after the 1972 championship, leaving me with a profound sense of sadness about Bobby and the futility of the Cold War.

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