Magnus: The youngest World Chess Champion’s coming-of-age story
by Paraskevi Karageorgu
- Telling the story of an introverted child from Norway who fulfils his ambition to become the best chess player in the world, Benjamin Ree’s documentary premiered last week at Tribeca
Magnus [+see also:
film profile], a documentary directed by Benjamin Ree and having its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, follows the life of the world's youngest number one in chess over the course of just under a decade – Norway’s Magnus Carlsen, who TIME Magazine named one of the most influential people alive. The documentary is not simply a story about ambition and talent; it also touches on the themes of pressure, dedication, the importance of a supportive family and the strength of the human mind.
The film opens with the most important moment in Magnus’ career – the 2013 World Chess Championship in India, where he waits for his game against Viswanathan Anand, a five-time World Chess Champion, to begin. Without revealing the outcome, the film moves on to Carlsen’s early childhood, where his father narrates over archival footage and home movies, allowing the audience to discover the traits in his son’s behaviour that revealed his potential. In fact, Magnus as a child was highly self-reflective, introverted and passionate about numbers. He was also an outsider in school, and being good at chess was what gave him self-confidence and led to his ambition of becoming the best in the world. A path marked by ups and downs, from being called the 'Mozart of chess' early on in his career, where at the age of only 13 he became the youngest chess grandmaster in history, to receiving the label of 'lucky loser' at 23, because of the favourable circumstances that earned him the right to challenge Anand for the title of World Champion. His performance at the beginning of the most anticipated match in living memory between these two grandmasters was not any better, the commentators describing him as ‘suffering’, his hands shaking, his anxiety making him an easy target for Anand’s calculated combinations. The unbearable tension is released during the crucial day off from the game, where the players have time to relax. Carlsen spends the day with his family, swimming and reading Donald Duck comics. The support he receives from being surrounded by those closest to him becomes a turning point for his performance when he comes back to finish the game and eventually wins the World Chess Championship, conquering the then title-holder. Frederic Friedel, co-founder of Chessbase, the chess database company, says that the way Carlsen plays “is just impossible to do for the human brain; it could only be compared to climbing Everest with tennis shoes and no oxygen”.
Magnus is a documentary about success, along with suffering, depression and the search for identity that have accompanied the young man on his way to achieving his biggest dreams. His consistency and dedication to his way of playing, based on creativity and intuition, have not only reshaped the way chess is played, but the game has also given him the self-confidence in maturing as a socially engaged, modern genius.