It's Not About the Competition
I love this movie for kids because it's not about competition even though competition plays a part in it. If anything, it illustrates the dangers of what competition can lead to - dehumanization and separation.
Josh Waitzkin, the ten-year old boy at the center of the film refuses to view his opponents with hatred or wariness, despite the best efforts of his teacher (played by Ben Kinsley) to force this upon him. At the climax of the national tournament Josh, knowing that he will win against the one boy who was portrayed as a cold antagonist, offers a draw to spare the boy the loss.
The heart of the movie is expressed beautifully when Josh is told by his teacher prior to this match that he must hold his opponents in contempt. Josh says, "I don't want to." His teacher says, "Bobby Fischer held his opponents in contempt." Josh's response was, "I'm not him."
I play this movie for my fifth graders because it brings them into the world of a smart, sophisticated, athletic and in every way wonderful boy who seems to have everything, but wants nothing but to play. It's the one movie where humanity is valued over the game.
I talk with my kids about this aspect of the movie and highlight all these points in discussion and children always love the movie. The soundtrack is great, the acting is suberb, much of it done through expression on the part of the young Max Pomeranc, and the story is wonderful.
Unfortunately for every fifty children's movies released in the US, there is only one movie like this that has the grace to portray children in such a positive light. Most movies about children have them running the show, smarter than is believable, rude, crude, and violent.
Searching for Bobby Fischer, directed by Steven Zaillian, is a winner for classroom viewing and a lesson in what is wrong in the world of competition.