Sunday, October 4, 2015

Don't Make a Scene: Searching for Bobby Fischer

The Story: Back when I first put together this scene post, it was intended for a Father's Day. But, revisiting it, I scrutinized a bit more and realized it was a Mother's scene, not a Father's. This is a primal parent's scene, of a mother stepping in and protecting her child.

As Nature intended? Sure.

Friends came back from a trip to Africa and said the scariest moments were when a baby elephant or rhino wandered away from its mother to go to the other side of their car. The animals would go ballistic. And they would go the shortest distance to reach their child—even if the car was in the way. A vehicle with people in it was just another barrier to be disposed of to reunite with its child.

And so Joan Allen's Mother in Searching for Bobby Fischer, literally getting in between her son and his passive/aggressive chess-coach, slamming the door to protect her son from his father's obsessions. This is not men's gamesmanship. It is not a bluff. This is life and death. Whatever it takes. Protect the child.

I've always loved this scene for its many truths. The certificate DOES mean nothing, but you only realize that once you get it. Yes, you need to prepare your child for the loss. Yes, every son goes up to the plate to win their father's love. It's all true. But, it doesn't matter at the moment. Those are just barriers. The child is the important thing. And this is not a game.

What the movie doesn't say (because it was made before Josh grew up) is that the young man portrayed in this scene would grow up to be a chess-master, and other disciplines, as well. And he would write extensively on the learning processes of children, and how they could avoid becoming the obsessive monster like Bobby Fischer, the man who was so much less than his Myth. Searching for Bobby Fischer? But, then having the maturity to leave him be, and make your own journey.

Great scene. Great movie.

The Set-Up: The parents of Josh Waitzkin (Joan Allen, Joe Mantegna)have always wondered what path their curious little boy (Max Pomeranc) would take. Sports-writer Dad has spent a fortune on gear for various sports—none have clicked. But Josh was fascinated with the chess-men in Washington Square Park, and learned the game, learned to play, learned to win with exceptional ability. So to hone his skill, Dad has brought in a chess-master (Ben Kingsley), who sees in Josh the "next Bobby Fischer." But Josh has begun to lose his chess-matches. At the time of this scene, he has reached an impasse.

Begin Play!

BRUCE: It's white's move.
BRUCE: Can we expect it any time soon?
JOSH: How many points is it worth?
BRUCE: To make the opening move?
JOSH: Yes.
BRUCE: Forget the points.
JOSH: How much is it worth if I do it?
BRUCE: Do it for its own sake. Do it for the love of the game.
BRUCE: Forget the certificate.
JOSH: I want to know how many more I am away to getting the certificate.
BRUCE: Forget the certificate.
JOSH: But I want to know.
BRUCE: - I don't know. -
JOSH: What do you mean you don't know?
BRUCE: I don't care.
JOSH: I don't understand.
BRUCE: It's white's move.
JOSH: I want the certificate.
BRUCE: You want the certificate? You have to have the certificate? You won't move until you get the certificate?
BRUCE: Fine. You win.
BRUCE: Here's your certificate.
BRUCE: Fill it out.
BRUCE: Doesn't mean anything. It's just a piece of paper.
BRUCE: It's a Xerox of a piece of paper.
BRUCE: Do you want another one?
BRUCE: Do you want ten?
BRUCE: You want twenty?
BRUCE: Thirty? I've got a briefcase full of them. They don't mean anything, though.
BRUCE: They mean nothing.
BONNIE: Get out of my house.
BRUCE: To put a child in a position to care about winning and not to prepare him is wrong.
BONNIE: Get out of my house.
FRED: Look, I know you don't want to admit it, but he's right. I mean, you wouldn't sign your kid up for little league and then not get him a glove. You equip him.
BONNIE: It's over.
FRED: Bonnie...
FRED: Bonnie, he's in a slump. This is a slump. It happens. When you get into a slump, you get out of it eventually. You don't give up.
BONNIE: This is like baseball to you.
FRED: If you're afraid to lose, you lose. He's afraid.
BONNIE: He's not afraid of losing. He's afraid of losing your love.
BONNIE: How many ballplayers grow up afraid of losing their father's love...
BONNIE: ...every time they come up to the plate?
FRED: All of them!
BONNIE: He knows you disapprove of him. He knows you think he's weak, but he's not weak.
BONNIE: He's decent.
BONNIE: And if you or Bruce or anyone else...
BONNIE: ...tries to beat that out of him,
BONNIE: ...I swear to God I'll take him away.
INTERVIEWER: When did you start to get serious about chess?
FISCHER: Uh, I got serious, oh...hmm, oh, well, I was always pretty serious about it.
FISCHER: You know, when I was maybe seven. (Laughs)
JOSH (V.O.) People say they've received letters from him over the years,
JOSH (V.O.) ...but never show them.
JOSH (V.O.) They say he lost his nerve, and he'll never play again.
JOSH (V.O.) They say he lost his mind...
JOSH (V.O.) ...and roams the streets of Los Angeles hiding out under assumed names.
BRUCE: Check. Check.
JOSH (V.O.) Some people say...he's dead.
JOSH (V.O.) I think he's lying low...
JOSH (V.O.) ...and getting stronger,
JOSH (V.O.) ...waiting for just the right moment to come back...
JOSH (V.O.) ...and reclaim his crown.

Searching for Bobby Fischer

Words by Steve Zaillian

Pictures by Conrad L. Hall and Steve Zaillian

Searching for Bobby Fischer is available on DVD from Paramount Home Video.

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