SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER
SUBJECTS — Sports/Chess; World/Canada;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Talent; Father/Son;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Caring.
AGE: 10+; MPAA Rating — PG for thematic elements;
Drama; 1993; 111 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
A father discovers that his son, Josh, is a chess genius and becomes obsessed with the boy’s chess competitions. As the story progresses, Josh shows his father and his opponents on how to put chess into perspective. The film is based on a true story about Josh Waitzkin as told by his father Fred Waitzkin in his autobiography.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: MTV Movie Awards: Best New Filmmaker Award (Zaillian); 1993 Academy Award Nominations: Best Cinematography.
Featured Actors: Joe Mantegna, Max Pomeranc, Joan Allen, Ben Kingsley, Laurence “Larry” Fishburne, Michael Nirenberg, Robert Stephens, David Paymer, William H. Macy.
Director: Steven Zaillian.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
“Searching for Bobby Fischer” explores the competitive pressures of the world of children’s chess tournaments and competitions in general. Bobby Fischer is Josh’s hero, but by the end of the movie, Josh has grown into his own human being and recognized the limits of competition. The film also shows us several men whose lives have become obsessed with the game.
Chess is a game of strategy and skill. The object of the game is to put your opponent into “check mate,” a position in which his king cannot move out of check. Chess descended from the Indian game “chaturanga” in which each player had four types of pieces, one each for the four divisions of the Indian army of the time: elephants, cavalry, chariots and infantry. Modified by the Persians and the Arabs, the game came to Europe in the 10th century. The modern version of chess was developed in Italy in the 14th century. Since about the 15th century the game has been extremely popular, with the best players writing widely read manuals and books on the theory of chess. Great competitions between masters of the game have been a feature of the sport since the 1700s. With the advent of computers, there has been an effort to get them to compete with men in playing chess.
Bobby Fischer was one of the greatest chess players of all time. In 1972 he won the world chess championship, the first time that a non-Russian had won the title in decades. He then disappeared, surfacing only to make millions by playing a chess championship in Yugoslavia, which at that time was pursuing a war of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Getting paid to play a match in Yugoslavia was against U.S. sanctions prohibiting trade with that country and Fischer lost his citizenship as a result. Later in life, while Fischer was still a fugitive from U.S. justice, he was reduced to making anti-U.S. and anti-Semitic broadcasts from a minor league Philippine Radio station. Fischer died on January 17, 2008.
Fischer, now a fugitive from U.S. justice, was reduced to making anti-U.S. and anti-Semitic rantings on a minor league Philippine Radio station. The last we heard, Fischer was arrested in Japan for trying to use a German passport and claimed German citizenship.
Bobby Fischer once said “chess is life.” That was the risk for Josh. The moral of this film has been well stated by Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, August 11, 1993:
By the end of “Searching for Bobby Fischer” we have learned something about tournament chess, and a great deal about human nature. The film’s implications are many. They center around our responsibility, if any, to our gifts. If we can operate at the genius level in a given field, does that mean we must – even if the cost is the sort of endless purgatory a Bobby Fischer has inhabited? It’s an interesting question, and this movie doesn’t avoid it.
At the end, it all comes down to … the choice between truth and beauty. What makes us men is that we can think logically. What makes us human is that we sometimes choose not to.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
At the end of the movie, why did Josh offer his opponent, the boy who didn’t go to school, a draw?
He decided that winning was so much more important to his opponent than it was to him, that inflicting the pain of loss on the other child was not worth the triumph winning. In other words, Josh honored the ethical principle of caring for another person above winning.
2. What did Josh’s friend from the park mean when he told him that he had to play the man and not the board? When you “play the man” what attention do you have to pay to the board?
When you play the man, you also have to play the board but you are also thinking about the habits and tendencies of your opponent. In this way, you can project what moves he will probably make.
3. Josh idolized Bobby Fischer as a fierce competitor at chess. But by the end of the movie, what had Josh realized about competition, its limits and his hero?
Josh had realized that competition had its limits and that caring for others was more important than winning. He realized that there was a better way to live than to mimic his superstar hero.
TALENT AND FATHER/SON
1. When a child is born with a talent, some parents are obsessed with the child developing that talent. Why is that?
A parent’s desire for a child to excel in an area in which the child is talented should come from loving the child and wanting what is best for him or her. However, sometimes parents seek to live their lives through their children and, at other times, they seek to gain wealth through marketing the children’s talents.
2. By the end of the movie, who had a better understanding of life, Josh or Bobby Fischer?
By the end of the film it was Josh, who put caring above the desire to win.
3. What did Josh’s father learn from Josh?
That the desire to win has its limits and that there was more to life than winning at chess.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
1. When Josh offered a tie to his opponent, which of the Pillars of Character prevailed over his desire to win?
The Pillar of Caring.