For many people, chess may lack the pop appeal of sports such as football and volleyball and of reality shows on television. Indeed the 1,500-year-old activity may look lethargic and slow, and young people used to a fast-moving pace may find it difficult to relate to the board game. The piece names (king, queen, knight, bishop, rook, horse and pawn) seem to derive from an old-fashioned, far-removed and medieval world. We need a youth embassador in order to change this.
At the age of just 13, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen decided that he wanted to become World Chess Champion, and it took him just 10 years to achieve it. He became the highest-ranking title-holder and the youngest person ever to do so in 2013. The also Norwegian and very young documentary filmmaker Benjamin Ree (he’s only 27 years of age, a year older than Magnus) captures the Champion’s saga from his infancy to his crowning in Chennai, three years ago.
Magnus’s parents realised that their child had an unusually mathematical mind and so they taught him chess at the age of six. The boy was very clumsy with other children, unable to jump a very low-set bar. Yet he would stare at a Lego train for six hours trying to work out how to finish it, and refusing to eat until he achieved his objective. His determination and analytical skills were outstanding, in contrast to his physical and social skills. His parents registered some key moments of his upbringing on camera, as did other filmmakers as Magnus started his climb to fame. Benjamin combined more than 500 hours of footage into one 78-minute doc.
Ree said: “Chess is regarded as the touchstone of intellect, the ultimate battle of the minds. During the last 15 years Magnus Carlsen has become the highest ranked player of all time. I found it immensely fascinating that no one I talked to understood how Magnus Carlsen had become so good – not even himself!”
The film also includes numerous interviews with a grown-up Magnus as he prepares for the most important match of his life, against the then World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand, 20 years his senior. The event took place in Anand’s own turf, in Chennai. The young Norwegian is an introvert, but still articulate enough to discuss his feeling in plain and good English. The film explains that Magnus’s unusual approach consists mostly of intuition, suggesting that intuition is a subconcious phenomenon with a scientific explanation.
Magnus is a celebration of an individual achiever, and a very factual register of a prodigy’s path to glory. It is almost certain to please those who already knew Magnus and chess fans altogether. Yet, it is unlikely to recruit any new chess enthusiasts, as it doesn’t go very deep into the singular and fascinating qualities of the board game. The film finishes off by claiming that Magnus has inspired hordes of young people, but somne questions remain unanswered. A young champion’s work isn’t confined to the competition arena; he must also engage with his followers, sponsor initiatives and become a youth ambassador. Has Magnus done that? We simply don’t know.
Magnus is out on digital, VoD, DVD and Blu-ray on December 12th. DMovies is giving away with DVDs and Blu-rays, a courtesy of Arrow Films – just e-mail us at email@example.com and answer the following question: “In which year did Magnus Carlsen become World Chess Champion?” (UK only, sorry!)
Don’t forget to watch the film trailer below: