The fascinating life of a bona fide genius

The late American chess champion Bobby Fischer has been fodder for feature films ( Searching for Bobby Fischer, the upcoming biopic Pawn Sacrifice that David Fincher plans to direct), Broadway musicals ( Chess) and a slew of books, many written by him. But Liz Garbus’ captivating Bobby Fischer Against the World is the first documentary portrait of the enigmatic genius, from his childhood in Brooklyn, where he became addicted to the game at 6, to his international fame as a chess champion and eventual descent into reclusive eccentricity bordering on madness.

Malcolm Gladwell, one of the many pop-culture analysts and historians interviewed in the film, says genius isn’t just about ability but also about desire: You have to be intrigued, if not obsessed, by something in order truly to master it. Fischer’s life illustrates the point perfectly: By 15, he was appearing on national TV as a self-taught chess whiz, having already won his first of eight U.S. championships.

Fischer’s famous 1972 “Match of the Century” showdown with Russian master Boris Spassky – a game emblematic of the ongoing Cold War – forms the heart of the film. The fascinating story recounted here will be new to many viewers, replete with nail-biting suspense. Bobby Fischer Against the World is far from hagiography, though. It devotes much of its second half to Fischer’s eventual meltdown, caused by his severe case of anxiety, during which he became a recluse. He re-emerged in 1992 for a rematch against Spassky, then fled the United States and began spouting anti-American and anti-Semitic rhetoric, denying the Holocaust and blasting Jews as “murderers,” even though his mother was Jewish. Fischer’s disintegration provides the movie with an unsettling undercurrent, lending strength to the belief that sometimes, too much genius can drive a person insane.

Movie Info

Director: Liz Garbus.

Producers: Liz Garbus, Matthew Justus, Rory Kennedy, Stanley Buchthal.

An HBO Documentary Films release. Running time: 90 minutes. No offensive material. Plays at 7:30 p.m. Monday and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Regal South Beach.


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