Andrew Bujalski’s Sundance winning indie flick tells the story of a 1980s computer chess tournament, where computers are pitted against one another. The human story, however, turns out to be a far more interesting one.
Computer Chess is an odd little film. By setting the story in the 1980s, Bujalski opens up the script to speculation about the future of computers – most of which turns out to be misguided – and some good laughs at the expense of past technology. Where the film excels, however, is in just how weird it actually is.
Myles Paige, as programmer Michael Papageorge, has perhaps the oddest character arc in years. As an independent programmer, Papageorge sits on the panel of the computer chess tournament, but somehow he does not have a room at the event hotel, so he spends most of his nights sleeping in random places or just wandering the corridors. As a character, Papageorge is reminiscent of the socially awkward hero Napoleon Dynamite, and his night time ramblings feel like a cross between Lost in Translation and Scooby Doo.
The rest of the cast seem to orbit around Papageorge, and each fit into a category of their own; the only woman at the conference – which is constantly, awkwardly and hilariously referred to; the cast feels only seconds away from shouting ‘Look! She has boobs! And she plays chess!’ – the awkward young student who is brilliant in the virtual world but terrible in the real one, and the arrogant MC who dares anyone to question his authority. Add to this a second conference, which seems to focus on sexuality and rebirth, and not only is there plenty of comedy to be had, but also plenty of commentary on our society and current dependence on technology.
Andrew Bujalski’s blends together the stories in the film much like a chess game; in order to understand the big picture, the audience must focus on all of the moving parts. The filmmaker’s decision to shoot in black and white, seemingly on cameras from the 1980s, only serves to reinforce the weirdness and the technophobia in the film.
Computer Chess is a quirky, funny and strange little film that is often hard to work out. Andrew Bujalski plays with the notions of the past and lays them over our knowledge of technology, effectively reigniting the fears of the past. The line ‘A machine can’t compete against the human soul’ and a fittingly surreal final moment bookend the film, leaving the whole thing feeling a little like a Kubrick flick, and the ramblings of Apple fanboys. An entertaining, if bewildering film.