“Chess – The Movie” isn’t going to put bums on seats, then again neither is the more decidedly vague title “Magnus”, but you may be making a mistake by writing this film off just because of its dry name.
If you’re a fan of chess you probably know most of this story anyway, that’s because Magnus Calrsen’s rise to Chess fame has been practically meteoric. A Grandmaster from the age of 13, he has a unique way of playing the game that has seen him defy all odds to become the world number 1. The film is compiled from VHS home footage and documentary footage captured by filmmakers Benjamin Ree and Oyvind Asbjornsen throughout chess prodigy’s teenage years and early twenties, bare in mind he’s currently only in his mid-twenties.
It’s clear from an early age that Magnus’ mind works very differently to others and there are a few laugh-out-loud moments in the film that demonstrate his special way of seeing things. He had dreamed of being a Grand Master and one day winning The World Chess Championship and plays everyday. Magnus’ daily practise takes place even when he doesn’t have a chess board because he can memorise the entire board and all of the moves on it, something he’s done since he was a boy. Viewers of the film are treated to proof of this improbably fantastic ability during the film, as he’s shown in one scene blindfolded with his back turned taking on 10 players, using his memory alone. Of course he wins and then provides his moves as an autographed gift – again from memory. It’s a moment in the film that inspires an incredulous head shake of the highest order.
Although, despite his apparent spectrally “special” ability, Magnus is keen to point out that he’s “not one of those borderline nut jobs” during one of his interviews with Ree. And that’s the story essentially, Magnus is a relatively ordinary guy who refuses the mantle of genius. He passionately loves chess, a game his father introduced him to as a child and he just happens to have a particularly supreme aptitude for it.
The influence of computer-based chess transformed it from a nuanced duelling-art to an autonomous regurgitation of pre-planned moves, in many ways Magnus and the revolution in chess that he has inspired has given the game new life. Even as a non-chess fan I found this glimpse into the unexpectedly crazy world of chess inspirational and extremely tense. Magnus’ relationship with his father and his wider family is also a beautiful thing to witness, especially when they rally around him at critical points in the film to pick him up and get him back on track.
Magnus is a tale of a father’s relentless dedication to his son and a boy’s relentless passion for a game he loves. If you have a remote interest in tales of success and overcoming challenges, this is a great film to watch with depth, humour and tension throughout.
We won’t ruin any of the story for you but the best thing about this documentary is that the protagonist successfully defended his title in New York against 26-year-old Russian Chess master Sergey Karjakin, also born in 1990, the week of the film’s release. Their battle was intense and was taken to a series quick-fire rounds after the pair could not be separated, Magnus made his breakthrough when playing at speed and trounced Karjakin to retain his crown, and on his own birthday no less.
Magnus is in cinemas now and funnily enough there’s also a film about Karjakin too, Sergey – The Chess Prodigy, available on Vimeo.