Searching for Bobby Fischer - 1993
Directed by Steven Zaillian; Writing: Fred Waitzkin (book), Steven Zaillian (screenplay) Starring: Max Pomeranc, Joe Mantegna, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence Fishburne.
Plot: (Based on a true story) In the midst of an adventurous game of hide and seek, seven year old Josh Waitzkin is distracted by the crackling sounds and repetitive whacks buzzing around a group of speed chess hustlers in Washington Square. From that moment on, young Josh is inexplicably drawn to the game of chess. He watches the hustlers at their game transfixed in their every move; engrossed in their play with the same intensity that any seven year old boy might enjoy while constructing a new Lego creation. Soon he can no longer resist the urge to play, and asks his mother if he can join in on one of the games at Washington Square. Obliged by his mother who is curious about his request, she is surprised by his ability. A nearby chess hustler named Vinnie also watches with equal interest to see the unique gift in Josh, and soon becomes an unpolished coach to the young boy. But the game that has come to be a source of joy for Josh, becomes an equal source of trepidation once he finds himself under the tutolage of an ex-chess master and the scrutiny of his father. Through this tender seven year old, the adults around him learn that the true gift is in the joy that Josh takes from it, rather than the gift itself.
I've heard this movie praised for its' accurate depiction of the Chess world and the game of Chess. Indeed, it is a movie based on the true story of a young chess prodigy, written by his father. But I watched this movie bereft of any knowledge of the game, and completely moved by the story. The subject of Chess was for me, merely a vehicle by which the message might be delivered. As someone who has worked with children, I found myself particularly open and empathetic to the message. And the message as I heard it was simply this; the potential that lives within our children is more fragile than a soft spot, more vulnerable than innocence, and more resilient than growing bones. Josh Waitzkin had a gift, but it was the manner in which his potential was nurtured that would open that gift to the world. We are constantly reminded of how such gifts might break in the continuing reference to Bobby Fischer.
It occurred to me while watching this movie, that the greatest gift posessed by Josh, was not his aptitude for Chess, but rather his capacity for compassion. There are two scenes in the movie that portray this well. One occurs during Joshs' lesson with his tutor, Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley). Bruce asks Josh, "Do you know what it means to have contempt for your opponent?" When Josh answers, "No," Pandolfini explains to the innocent young boy the meaning of the word hate, and instructs Josh, "You have to hate them Josh, they hate you." Josh answers him with a reluctant defiance, "But I don't hate them." Fortunately, Josh never learns how to "master" this tactic, and his game does not suffer for the lack of it. Another scene occurs near the end of the movie, when Josh offers his opponent a draw in the most important match of his young life. Knowing he has won the match, Josh defies what he has been taught with his arm stretched across the chessboard in a gracious gesture far beyond his years. He is offering his opponent a draw in an attempt to spare him the anguish of the loss. It is at this moment that the adults in Joshs' life understand the nature of his true gift.
In doing a little research for this page, I was surprised to discover that the music for this movie was composed by James Horner. This is a fact about which I had been previously unaware. Because more than a few of my favorite movies have had musical scores arranged and conducted by Mr. Horner, I'm beginning to wonder if his music doesn't have some sort of "Pied Piper" effect on me. :) The Midi music that accompanies this page is not the movie music, as none could be found. What I did find was a lovely place on the net called "A Quiet Cove," and this original midi sequence entitled "Angel Song" by Dave Edwards (info and link found at bottom of this page) whom I would sincerely like to thank.