As a complete novice to chess, I approached Bobby Fischer Against the World with a certain level of trepidation. While aware of the basic rules, my knowledge of the intricacies of the sport is pretty much nonexistent. However, the story of Bobby Fischer is compelling, intriguing, and distressing in equal measure, and it became clear my limited knowledge on the subject would not be an issue.
The documentary chronicles the life of Fischer, from a difficult childhood, to his rise to the apex of the global chess community, all the way to his slow descent in paranoid delusions, exile from his homeland, and eventually death.
In many respects Bobby Fischer against the World, is not really about chess at all. This could easily have been a film about boxing, with a Tyson–esque main character, as the sport itself could be entirely interchangeable. This film is more of study in obsession and paranoia. Fischer had no other focus outside of chess, he used it to block out everything else, beginning with an awkward relationship with his mother, and continuing into his adult life.
However, once he achieved his goal of winning the World Championship, he became a virtual recluse, immersed into a world of religious cults, anti Semitism, and finally paranoid madness. He seemed ill at ease with the level of fame he had garnered in winning the World Championship, and there is plenty of footage showing his struggle with his own notoriety. Perhaps most striking is Fischer’s struggle with his portrayal by the media as a patriot after beating the Russian World Champion Boris Spasky, made especially poignant in the film by the contrast with his later exploits, most pointedly being considered an enemy of the state prior to his death.
Bobby Fischer Against the World is an affecting and deeply moving film, and a very intimate look at man widely regarded as the greatest chess player ever. It is well structured, cleverly divided into chapters by marking them as phases in a game of chess.
However, what makes for such an intriguing documentary is the sheer volume of archive footage, literally documenting Fischer’s entire life from age 6, all the way to his death. This is supplemented by a wealth of interviews from his friends and peers giving a valuable insight into his life, and the candid photography of Harry Benson, often showing Fischer at his most vulnerable. The overall effect is a very well rounded, well researched, and genuinely intriguing film and an excellent study in human behaviour, and the perils of obsession.