Fresh from victory last week on home turf in the Norway Chess tournament, Magnus Carlsen can now start concentrating on defending his World Championship title this fall – and making his debut as a movie star. The film simply entitled Magnus will have its premiere in Norway on September 2.
It already attracted broad interest when it was shown last month at the Tribeca film festival in New York. Even before the festival began, the film had been sold to 15 countries including Germany, China, Belgium and Austria in addition to several of the Nordic and Baltic countries.
The film, produced by Norwegian Sigurd Mikal Karoliussen and directed by Benjamin Ree, has been two years in the making and tracks Carlsen’s life from childhood to when he first won the World Chess Championship in 2013. Karoliussen told newspaper iTromsø recently that it sold out faster than any other film shown at Tribeca, with tickets also snapped up for extra showing. “Folks are fascinated by his journey and gripped by the story, if not by chess,” Karoliussen told iTromsø. “You can say it’s a family film, where Magnus’ family are as central as Magnus himself.”
Bullied as a boy
The film makes use of “enormous” archive material, including a scene that made headlines in Norway when newspaper VG revealed how it showed Carlsen’s reaction to being bullied in the ninth grade. “There’s a gang that’s very tough, people are afraid to go near them,” Carlsen says in a tearful scene shot when he was a young teenager. “They try to plague me as much as possible. I’m like an outsider because I’m so different in the class. It’s difficult to be cool when I play chess.”
One can only wonder how his former ninth-grade bulliers feel today, when they see how successful Carlsen has been and realize that he must remember how they treated him. Carlsen’s arguably most faithful supporter, his father Henrik, was interviewed for the documentary film and confirmed how Carlsen endured “quite a tough milieu when he was in the ninth grade. It was rather frightening.”
The World Chess Champion has also told VG on earlier occasions how it wasn’t easy to be a “chess nerd” when he was in elementary school either. “It could happen that I was beat up or called a ‘chess nerd,'” Carlsen said. “Much of it was my own fault. I deserved it. I didn’t always behave well, and I had a big mouth.”
Carlsen and his father met his three sisters (Ellen, age 26; Ingrid, age 21; and Signe, age 19) in Manhattan last month.They’d come to see the finished film at the festival themselves for the first time. The chess champ himself hasn’t wanted to see it, though: “He’s distanced himself from it,” he father told VG. He reads relatively little about himself … it’s probably a means of tackling how he’s become famous without wanting to focus on it.”
Henrik Carlsen told VG that he thought the film “might be a bit uncomfortable for Magnus, me and the family, but at the same time, I realize that there’s a value to offering a balanced view (on his life),” adding that it was important “to show that becoming a world champion in chess from Norway hasn’t been an upturn the whole way. He’s encountered resistance here and there. Telling that story can have some value.”
The elder Carlsen said it was hard to see his son go through the bullying period, but claims he got over it quickly “and maybe got stronger because of it.” He hopes other people who were bullied might find some strength from his son’s experience, too.
Magnus Carlsen certainly showed his strength at the Norway Chess Tournament, which wrapped up late last week when it became clear on Thursday that he’d won it, for the first time actually. Even after clinching two world championships, Carlsen lost Norway Chess last year, to the other young man who’ll be challenging him for the title in November but dropped out of Norway Chess just weeks before it began. Carlsen’s victory in Stavanger last week came after he lost just one game, to Levon Aronian in the next-to-the-last round. Then he beat Pavel Eljanov, and emerged with the winning six points, a half-point ahead of Aronian.
“I’m very satisfied,” Carlsen told TV2 when it was all over. “It was incredibly wonderful to be able to win here.”