Sunday, September 20, 2015

Bobby Fischer cared two hoots for patriotic games -- the underlying message of Ed Zwick''s "Pawn Sacrifice"

Chess legend Bobby Fischer was fighting his own war against the Russians, against communism, against the Jews and against his own uncertain patrimony. But officious America tried to enlist him in its battle against ideological rival, the Soviet Union. Edward Zwick in ""Pawn Sacrifice" plays it safe by turning Fischer into the Romantic genius who seeks fair play and who is obsessed with the game of chess in itself. While the Americans were trying to play political chess, Fischer played chess as an end in itself. The film focuses on the Reykjavik contest but completely as an outsider.
It would have needed greater courage than a Hollywood director can command to show Fischer's inner demons. If Fischer hated the wily totalitarian tactics that the Russians seem to have employed in creating the myth of the invincible chess grandmasters, he saw through the American game of making money in the name of patriotism as well.
Toby Maguire puts in a good performance as Fischer, with dramatic emphases of speech and gesture. What he is unable to convey perhaps is the inner fears, if there were any, of Fischer. Fischer eccentricity flowed from the internal turbulence.
What Zwick successfully conveys is the American ideal of the unpretentious, un-ostentatious common man that Fischer, completely unselfconscious of his genius and the importance of his genius, was. Perhaps the sympathy and admiration for Fischer would have diminished if his life post-glory were to have been shown. Zwick wisely chooses not to go there. That is the flaw of the film. It remains a celebration of a moment in the tortured life of Fischer and a moment in the Cold War when the Americans scored a brownie point through Fischer.
The question remains as to who cares for the sub-plots of the Cold War, which was a fake war on both sides. Perhaps the new generation has no interest in the Cold War or in ideologies. The heroes and villains do not really matter.
What about Fischer himself? Are the young people of today fascinated by Fischer as were the young people around 1972? Unlikely. Americans are dredging the Cold War for nostalgic moments, unsuccessfully.

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