Vikram Jayanti’s gripping documentary Game Over reminds us that chess legend Garry Kasparov’s greatest victory was charged with political significance. In 1985, Kasparov, the half-Jewish, half-Armenian underdog, displaced Anatoly Karpov as world champion—another nail in the coffin of the floundering Soviet establishment. Twelve years later in New York, Kasparov suffered his most agonizing defeat, and it was an even more symbolic moment. His match with IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue evolved into a harrowing spectacle of grandmaster flash wilting before microchip force—a queasily literal triumph of artificial over human intelligence.
Or was it? Faced with IBM’s drab tech boffins and a suavely brooding hero, Jayanti isn’t afraid to pick a side. Kasparov to this day accuses IBM of surreptitious human intervention, and Game Over, with the help of talking eggheads, makes clear that a powerful computer, calculating the endless variety of moves and countermoves at astonishing speed, abetted by the intuition and big-picture savvy of a top-level competitor, could crush even the greatest player in history. Game Over piles on hokey paranoid-thriller trimmings—whispered voice-over, noirishly low camera angles—and shamelessly drives home its point with snippets of Raymond Bernard’s 1927 silent The Chess Player, about Baron von Kempelen’s 18th-century proto–Deep Blue (a man squatting behind a mechanical chess-playing “Turk”). Kasparov’s case is less than persuasive, but there’s an undeniable poignancy to his wounded conviction—and to his anti-corporate tirades (their impact somewhat blunted by the inclusion of his amusing Pepsi commercial). Game Over‘s brazen lopsidedness may diminish its credibility, but it taps into the essence of all conspiracy theories—the desperate desire to believe.