Bobby Fischer Against the World
Director: Liz Garbus
Running time: 90 minutes
By Robert O’ Reilly
Originally made for the HBO television network, Liz Garbus’s documentary biopic about former world chess champion Bobby Fischer has proved so popular with viewers and critics alike that it has now been given a full cinema release. Tracing the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of arguably the greatest chess player of all time, Bobby Fischer Against the World just might be the best documentary you see this year. Showing an avid interest in the game from the age of six, Fischer went on to win eight United States Championship titles before becoming the youngest ever chess grandmaster. His best-of-24 title match against Russian world champion Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972, became a media circus and seemingly much more than just a battle between two beautiful minds, as both players became pawns in a political game between the two governments of the Soviet Union and the United States, who viewed the match as a clash of Cold War ideologies.
After winning the coveted world title at the tender age of 29, and apparently with nothing else to achieve in the game of chess, Fischer completely lost interest in playing the ‘game of kings’ and his life started on a downward spiral from which he never recovered. Suffering from paranoid delusions and heavily influenced by anti-Semitic literature and cult religions, Fischer disappeared off the world’s radar until he reappeared in the early 1990’s, a young Hungarian girl coaxing him out of retirement. However, his Lazurus-like reappearance ended in disaster for the former champion, as his rematch win against his old nemesis Spassky in the former Yugoslavia broke a U.S. embargo, the American Government threatening him with a hefty jail sentence if he tried to get back into the U.S. A heavy-set, heavily-bearded Fischer ultimately found a home in Iceland, the site of his previous world title win but he soon isolated himself from the general public by openly criticising Jewish people and generally behaving badly.
Using captivating stock footage and heartfelt interviews, the documentary paints Fischer as pretty much a complete recluse whose only real love in life was the chessboard. His incredible talent at playing chess came at a cost however, as his obsession with the game led to him not being able to develop any meaningful relationships in his life, including with his parents who both eventually neglected him. Viewers who might be put off by the idea of a documentary about chess in the first place should definitely give this film a chance, as it’s a wonderfully engrossing biopic that is both highly gripping and expertly edited. Almost flawless in execution (the film is only slightly hampered by Garbus’s excessive use of music from the period in question, which often doesn’t fit in with the film’s tone and gives it the feel of an episode of Reeling in the Years), Bobby Fischer Against the World is not just a documentary about chess, but a marvellously executed story of a man whose mind eventually cracked with the strain of being a true genius.