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“Searching for Bobby Fischer” by Steven Zaillian

The film Searching for Bobby Fischer by Steven Zaillian is about the childhood of a chess player Joshua Waitzkin. The movie is based on the real life of the chess player. When Josh Waitzkin was seven years old, his family noticed that the boy has a great interest in chess. Still, if the boy’s mother wishes Joshua to be happy, the father is obsessed with the idea to make the boy a real grand master. For this aim the father hires Bruce Pandolfini, a chess coacher. Bruce sees the boy’s future similar to the career of Bobby Fischer, a chess champion. The coacher does everything possible and tries to persuade Joshua that the boy should long for the victory at all costs. Still, the boy has an absolutely different view point. Unlike Bobby Fischer Joshua is for the fair play. Unlike the coacher, Joshua is sure that chess is not just a game, but a real art. That is why Joshua ended the game with cold and haughty Jonathan Poe with handshake and draw. Though, his offer was rejected.

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The dispute between talent and diligence is as old as creativity. One by one these qualities cannot make a genius but a combination of real talent and rich experience may lead to great results. Discussing the question of knowledge of nature one may pay attention to the opposition of two chess players, a talented child Josh and his teacher, grand master Bruce. The first one has a wonderful gift, while the second one mastered his chess play all his life, though did not reach the level of a genius.

Speaking about nature of chess, Bruce once said that “Bobby Fischer got underneath it like no one before and found at its center, art” (Searching for Bobby Fischer). Bruce described Josh’s game rather like “creating” chess set, than playing it. In another episode Bruce noted, that he was a forger in the chess art. Grand master, as well as Josh’s father, believed, that the way to victory passes through constant trainings. In fact, Bruce was a bright example of a person, who held typically empirical opinion which presupposed, that he always tried to overcome his own limits. He hoped that personal experience may compensate lack of inborn talent:

“Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished?…. To this I answer in one word, from experience” (Locke 185).

Once Bruce meets a boy, who is a living evidence of the fact that no matter how much of empirical experience one gathers, an inborn talent may develop much farther. Grand master trains him, but he does not take into account the difference between his own situation and Josh’s. In fact, he teaches the boy as if he was growing another forger.

The famous argument between empirics and rationalists concerns the nature of knowledge: is it an inborn or acquired phenomenon within the lifespan. Empirics stood for the idea of getting knowledge about the surrounding by the means of life experience which people received thanks to sense organs and sensation of pain or pleasure. At the same time, rationalists admitted the possibility of facts learning which was realized by a purely logical way.

Josh has amazing logical abilities from his birth; though Bruce’s trainings perfected his talent he was able to play chess even without those studies. The idea of talent’s priority over experience only asserts itself in the end of the movie, when Josh stops his training but still wins the competition.

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Locke, John. “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”. Peter H. Nidditch. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979. Print.

Searching for Bobby Fischer. Dir Steven Zaillian. Paramount Pictures, 1993. Film.

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