by Randall Allen Dunn
Everyone has dreams. Some of them fall by the wayside, as everyday life steps in and crowds out those higher ambitions. Many people never earn that dream promotion, never win that crown, never make that dream date, never take that dream vacation. They grow older, settle down, raise a family, and start living the same ordinary life that most people live, never having chased after the extraordinary desires of their hearts.
But oftentimes, they discover that their children have great gifts. They might be as great or better than the talent their parents had when they were younger. Though their own dreams never came to pass, these people realize that their child still has an opportunity to realize their dreams.
Or a miniature version of their parents’ dreams.
In the film, “Searching for Bobby Fischer”, Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc) discovers an innate genius for playing chess, on his seventh birthday. He quickly demonstrates such astounding ability that he is able to challenge an adult chess expert. His mother, Bonnie (Joan Allen) explains to her husband, Fred (Joe Mantegna), that their son somehow knows how to play chess. When Josh easily beats his father, Fred realizes that Josh is not just good. Josh is a genius at this game, with potential for greatness that Fred could never have realized in his own glory days of sports.
They hire a teacher, Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley), a former chess champion who also failed to realize his own dreams. Bruce never reveals openly that his own young hopes were dashed by failure at a chess competition, an incident that destroyed his confidence and hardened his outlook on life. He tries to instill the same cold perspective in Josh, to mold him into the kind of cold, disciplined player that he believes Bobby Fischer was. Bobby Fischer, considered to be the greatest chess player of all time, has become Bruce’s model for how to become a champion. To win, Josh must think and act exactly like Fischer.
But Josh isn’t like that. He’s kind and sensitive. And he’s interested in doing more with his life than just playing chess.
Unfortunately, the pressure of the competitions – and the fear of losing them – drives Bruce and Fred to push Josh harder. To do whatever it takes to form him into a champion. Even if it means setting aside other classes, other activities with friends, or other people’s feelings. Including Josh’s feelings about the way things are going.
Fred finally realizes that life is about more than competition, and his son is more than just a chess champion in the making. His son is a seven-year old boy who wants to experience all the joys of childhood, without the burdens that weigh down on only a handful of adults. Fred takes the chess trophies that had adorned their living room and moves them into Josh’s room, telling him, “These belong to you.” He has finally learned to separate himself from Josh’s personal victories, letting Josh take full ownership of his achievements.
What’s more, he has learned to listen to Bonnie’s concerns about how they’re raising Josh, and about what really makes Josh special. It’s not his chess abilities, but his concern for other people and his integrity. Josh won’t be pushed to become as cold as Bruce expects him to be, even if it means losing a few games.
When Bruce recognizes it, too, he overcomes his fear of attending chess competitions, and joins Josh as his championship game.
As Josh faces his greatest challenger, Jonathan Poe (Michael Nirenberg), he discovers that Jonathan has left an opening that will allow Josh to win in twelve moves. Knowing that Jonathan doesn’t see it, he offers his challenger a draw, to share the championship. Convinced that he was won, Jonathan refuses to accept. They finish their game, and Josh wins the championship title.
Fred and Bruce take new pride in Josh, not for winning the game … but for offering Jonathan a way to save face. They’ve both come to learn that it’s very easy to achieve victory in a competition, while losing in life.
There’s nothing wrong with having great dreams, even having great dreams for your kids. As long as the fulfillment of that dream doesn’t overshadow the rest of your life – or theirs. Life was meant to be lived and enjoyed, with family and friends, good experiences and bad, for better or worse. Devoting all of your energy to the pursuit of a dream, or expecting your children to do so, means sacrificing all of the other things that make life worth living. Don’t trap your children in the pursuit of a reckless dream that might not even be their own. In order for our kids – and us – to really live life, we might need to let go of some of those big dreams.
Or at least loosen our grip.
Find more reviews of “Searching for Bobby Fischer” at amazon.com!
Monday, August 1st, 2011