Documentary Review: ‘Magnus’ Is For Any Fan Of Chess

Review by Cade

As an former fan of chess, I was eager to learn more about the scope of competitive play in the new documentary Magnus, but instead was pleasantly surprised to learn more about the life of Magnus Carlsen, the current world chess champion. With exclusive interviews with the legend himself, we learn about Carlsen’s fascination and adeptness at the game of chess since childhood. Director Benjamin Ree uses a mesmerizing combination of home footage and voiceovers that help us to understand and accompany Carlsen on his long journey to winning the championship.

Henrik Carlsen, Magnus’ father, was interviewed a noticeable amount, especially during the beginning of Magnus’ career. I felt as though this was a reasonable and clever choice, as Henrik seemed to be deeply involved in the development of Magnus’ chess career, such that I was able to get a very clear glimpse into Magnus’ chess as well as personal life as a child. Unfortunately, we never get a very certain answer when it came to exactly what drives his obsession with chess, which I suspect stems far beyond this documentary. One thing is clear: Carlsen thinks wildly different from the rest of us, and it’s a talent that is to be admired and respected.

The soundtrack for this film does an excellent job for its purpose. After all, significant parts of the movie constitute Carlsen sitting at a chess board against an opponent. The music can be subtle or suspenseful, depending on a the current tone the film is trying to portray, usually in connection to Carlsen’s mood. Either way, it kept me engaged and interested in what can normally be seen as a boring or dull game. Something else the movie did well was keeping the sport as simple as possible. I know from experience how complex and challenging the game of chess can be, but luckily none of those elements were present in Magnus. There is nothing you need to know about chess to appreciate Carlsen’s journey that Magnus doesn’t tell you, which is definitely impressive.

Even though you know fully well that Carlsen is going to win it all, I still experienced a strong feeling of happiness from seeing a boy who had been bullied during his childhood for being different achieving the goal of his dreams. Seeing as how the world chess championship of 2016 is happening as I write this, I would recommend Magnus to anyone interested in chess, and more importantly, a champion’s inspiring path to victory in it.

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