Wednesday, February 14, 2007


This historical epic, set in partitioned Poland of 1776 is told in two distinct acts. The first is a political intrigue melodrama that follows the uneasy truce between Russian and Polish forces as it devolves into a full scale revolt. The second act finally introduces The Chess Player, a creation of a genius inventor who specializes in making elaborate humanlike machines (automatons). But it's all part of a clever deception to smuggle a fugitive revolutionary to safety. But the plan hits a snag when the Russian Empress, Catherine II, hears about the sensational chess playing automaton, and requests that it be brought to St. Petersburg so she can play it. (see the scene of the match between Catherine II and The Turk)


Historical films often say as much about the era they were made as the era they were set. Good Night and Good Luck, for example, was more than just Senator Joseph McCarthy's dispute with Edward R. Murrow; its message "you can't defeat the enemies of freedom by becoming one" was a warning obviously inspired by current events.

So the question is, why would 1920s France be interested in 1770s Poland? Perhaps because Europe between the world wars was factious and rife with revolutions. so France, being caught between Germany's political unrest and Spain's civil war, could relate to Poland's position amid their neighbor's power struggles.


The Turk, the chess playing machine, did actually exist. It's popularity at the time attests to the universal desire of humans throughout history to understand the nature of cognition. Can a machine be constructed that's self-aware? If so, would it differ from humans only in degree, or does the human machine have a ghost in it?

The documentary Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine (into which several scenes of The Chess Player were edited) explored this territory quite effectively.

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