This August marks the twentieth anniversary of the film Searching for Bobby Fischer, which tells the real-life story of a child who shows signs of being a chess prodigy.
This is a beautifully made movie with a wonderful cast, including Joan Allen, Laurence Fishburne, Ben Kingsley, and Joe Montegna. The magical Max Pomeranc plays Josh, the suspected genius.
When I first saw Searching for Bobby Fischer I loved it, and though I was technically an adult in my early twenties I identified more with the kids than the parents.
Seeing it again recently, through the eyes of a mom, the message to parents was impossible to miss.
The film explores many themes including parenting, coaching, sportsmanship, failure, winning at all costs, risk, mothers and sons, fathers and sons, childhood, and competition. Though the focus here is chess, Josh could have just as easily been a violin prodigy or a hockey superstar. It’s remarkable how relevant the themes are 20 years later.
And as a parent, Searching for Bobby Fischer makes me question myself as well. I want to believe that if I’m ever in this situation, I can be as strong as Josh’s mom, supporting without pushing, protecting when necessary, but also getting over my own discomfort because I’m able to see the benefit to my child. I hope that I would be able to clearly see all the blurry lines between healthy and unhealthy involvement for myself and my child.
Searching for Bobby Fischer
However, I know how easy it is to get caught up in the excitement of seeing your children do amazing things, things that perhaps you wish you were able to do but can’t, and I can understand Josh’s dad’s reaction and can sympathize with him.
Searching for Bobby Fischer is a must-see for parents and children (6 and older).
In fact, it’s a perfect family movie as it will generate lots of conversation afterwards. Your kids will probably have many questions but you can get the discussion started by asking them if they can think of any examples of grown-ups taking over something that was supposed to be fun for kids.
It’s a conversation we should all be having because in 20 years it hasn’t gotten better. In fact parental pressure and over-investment in their children’s activities has become even more problematic.
Here are some other questions you might want to explore with your kids:
- Have you ever felt passionate about something the way Josh feels about chess?
- Why was winning so important to Josh’s dad?
- Why was Josh afraid to lose?
- In the end how did Josh stay true to himself and his values?
- How do you think it would feel to be the other chess genius in the movie? Did his life seem fun?
- How did Josh’s two teachers/coaches (Laurence Fishburne and Ben Kingsley) help him along the way? How were they different from each other?