I remember watching this movie back in the ’90s when it first came out. And I just watched it again today. Funny, I didn’t recall that Bruce Pandolfini was a character in the film, but he taught me how to play chess via his books: I studied the game for many years. And now I see that I relate in an important way to this movie.
Like many boys, I grew up in an abusive household. Separated from my biological father before I was five years old, I found myself with a stepfather who abused me both physically and psychologically. Once he got over his hatred of me, he did his best to masculinize me, and I think that, at his best, his lessons were designed to help me survive as a man in our culture.
Searching for Bobby Fischer faces the masculinization of men head on. You see a very sweet and sensitive kid (Josh) being raised by a father who knew no better than to do this for his kid (although at some point you have to wonder if all the trophies were for Josh or for his father). And of course we see the mother pushing back against all this and being dismissed by the father. I’ve been guilty of that too. My stepfather is inside me, like it or not.
Josh was wise for his age and taught his father and his chess teacher some things about being human – we don’t have to give up our sweetness and sensitivity, our compassion and kindness, to become men. Indeed we lose half of ourselves when we cut that part out of us; this is what’s led to an epidemic of hidden depression in men in our culture. Sadly this is something men don’t want to talk about. And so we continue the legacy and pass it down to our boys, generation after generation.
Ironically, I remember at some point making a conscious decision to halt my study of chess because I imagined what a life of chess would be like – very lonely. And I was tired of being lonely. I wanted to have a life filled with friendships. But I wasn’t very good at them back then. Just ask my kids and my ex wife.
I was that sweet and sensitive kid when I was little. And for a time in my life I thought I had lost that, but looking back over the last decade of my life, I realized that in reality, I’d just buried it deep inside of me in order to survive. I’m delighted beyond belief to see it flourishing again. Life is good.