When Norway Captured India’s King (Documentary Review: “Magnus”)

The fascinating story of Norway’s wunderkind grandmaster, Magnus Carlsen, known throughout the world as The Mozart of Chess.  From toddler days to the 2013 world championship that became a David & Goliath showdown for world dominance, it’s as much a story about genius as about the bonds of family.

 

SnapShot Plot

In the revealing documentary, Magnus, what strikes us as even more dramatic than the meteoric rise of young Magnus Carlsen onto the world chess stage is the very juxtaposition of pure, unadulterated genius with a normal, middle class Norwegian family dynamic. Indeed, from an early age it was clear that Magnus, the family’s only son, was distinctly withdrawn and introspective as compared to his sisters and parents. His father, a mild-mannered engineer, observed a natural mathematical penchant in his son, combined with an innately advanced memory skill, so he thought his son might gravitate to chess naturally. He could never have foreseen the profound consequences that suggestion would have on his child’s future and that of his family, as well as on the entire history of the game itself.

By the time Magnus was 13 he had already become a grandmaster, at 19 the youngest-ever chess player to be #1 in the world, and at age 21 he became the strongest chess player in history, toppling Russian Garry Kasparov’s own ‘ratings’ record. In the stirring climax of the film, it’s 2013 and we follow 22 yr. old Magnus Carlsen to India to confront legendary world champion, Viswanathan Anand (in his home town) who had defended the title since 2007. What transpires is a 10 game, multiple day battle of the mind, spirit and philosophical approach to chess. Wherein Anand plays from a position of rigorous preparation, working endlessly with computer generated sequences and algorithms, Carlsen’s game is all about Intuition.  For fans of Jeopardy!, it’s akin to watching longtime champion Ken Jennings play against IBM’s Watson.

 

 

Parting Shot

From the start, Magnus Carlsen captivates. He may look like the Nordic version of Justin Bieber, and his brand of genius would be a tasty film role for, say, a young Val Kilmer type. But what the film does so brilliantly is to showcase (over 10 years of shooting) the solitary and high-stakes pressure cooker world of chess against the backdrop of a young boy’s journey toward self. Magnus is often riddled with self doubt, and prone to crippling anxiety. In many ways he’s a normal kid, but then of course he’s not at all. His family knows his mind is completely off the radar, but thankfully they never treat him that way. And that seems to be the ballast needed to stay on the board until the next gambit.

Magnus is presently streaming on Netflix.

YouTube Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_EkreN5rcQ

 

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