Bobby Fischer Against the World (review)

Brooklyn boy Bobby Fischer, the temperamental, reclusive 1970s chess champion, is probably best known by most people under 40 — if he’s known at all — for being that crazy ex-pat who said America got what it deserved on 9/11. Or maybe they’d heard of the 1993 drama Searching for Bobby Fischer, which really doesn’t have much to do with the man at all. Here, documentarian Liz Garbus (Girlhood) examines Fischer in a more comprehensive way than has ever been attempted before, and explores his enigma in ways that even those who do remember him at the height of his fame will find fascinating. Because even when he was known, he wasn’t very well known at all. With our hindsight today, however, Garbus’s portrait of Fischer as a lonely child and a monomaniacal young chess player becomes a portrait of his times as well, one that seems to ask, Is it any wonder he ended up a paranoid old coot? His childhood was steeped in paranoia: his mother was antiwar and Jewish in the 1950s, when to be either alone was practically synonymous with being a commie; her FBI file was enormous. He became a Cold War pawn in chess rivalries with Soviet players, championed as some sort of Great American Hope against Russian players who had state support for their game while Fischer had none whatsoever. (No wonder he held out for larger prize pots! And isn’t getting as much money as the market will bear the American way, too?) Fischer’s tragedy of genius and madness as two sides of his own personal coin, and a descend into deeper madness once he cut himself off from the rest of the world, here becomes a uniquely American story, a larger parable for a downfall from heights of glory.

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