In 2013 Time Magazine named Magnus Carlsen one of its 100 most influential people. An extraordinary feat – especially for someone who was then only 22. But then again then there’s very little about Magnus Carlsen that isn’t extraordinary. Having started to chess at five years old he didn’t show much interest in it until he achieved his goal of defeating his older sister. At that point his enthusiasm for and devotion of chess grew. Just eight years later, aged only 13, he became the third youngest International Grandmaster in history. Six years later he became the youngest ever chess player to be ranked World Number One. Magnus continues to win most of his matches with true mastery.
The documentary was shot over the course of 10 years following Magnus through awkward adolescence to a man of burgeoning confidence. The draw of this documentary is not so much the element of chess, though there’s more than enough of it for you chessaholics out there. The main pull of the film is emotional – that of the true bond Magnus has with his family. Contrasts are quickly drawn between Magnus and the masters of chess that he meets along the way. We are told all about their methodical approach to chess and training , the hours of dedication that go into their success. We see that equal commitment from Magnus but in a different, and wholly positive way. We are shown, to coin a cliche, the true power of unconditional love and the impact his truly devoted family have on him. Although his extraordinary skill takes centre stage you do not need to be a chess master to understand the intrinsic support his family provide him with.
Magnus is responsible for igniting the love of chess in new generations and this documentary makes it easy to see why. He comes across well as a figure who is truly endearing and has come through many obstacles on his way to success. Soundbites within the film make it clear that his talent is almost otherworldly, “After just four moves there are a billion alternatives.” Yet he is still a human being who at times finds it a struggle to fit in, “It’s hard to be cool when I play chess.” who is truly committed to what he does and is distraught when he loses, “It felt like my world collapsed.” The fact the cameras followed him for such an extended period of time show the shifts in these pressures and the impact of increased global attention. After seeing the insanity of his press following at the world championships – a swarm of literally a hundred of cameras descent upon him – it would be impossible not to feel sorry for someone under that level of scrutiny.
Yet at all times, through the wins and the losses, he remains a figure we totally route for whilst remaining in awe of his skill. The stunts he pulls off in his spare time – particularly his blind match at Harvard University – are genuinely jaw dropping. Such moments could be tainted by arrogance and snobby whereas instead his playfulness and genuine curiosity shine through. This is a young man who is devoted to what he does yet does not allow himself to be defined by it. His various competitors seem to live lives that are resolute in discipline and structure . This documentary makes it clear to the viewer that Magnus’s conviction and creativity, founded in his brilliant intuition, bring a little bit of a magic to the game.
Dir: Benjamin Ree
Scr: Linn-Jeanethe Kyed
Prd: Sigurd Mikal Karoliussen
Featuring: Magnus Carlsen, Henrick & Sigrun Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand.
Music: Uno Helmersson
Run time: 78 minutes
Magnus is in UK cinemas November 25th.