Warning: There may be some spoilers below.
After watching the trailer for Netflix's TV mini-series "The Queen's Gambit," you might think it's a story about competitive chess. But after binge-watching through the 6 hours and 33 minutes, I now realize that Scott Frank and Allan Scott created an ode to human nature.
The story is set in 1960's America, and not surprisingly, the atmosphere is inebriating. Carlos Rafael Rivera's soundtrack is elegant and fits perfectly, majestically hypnotizing the spectator during the trama's most decisive moments. There's a sleek resemblance of film noir from the opening scene to the closing credits, which by the way, have a curious James Bond 007 opening-credits-feel. It looks like every scene was planned with stunning photography and picture-perfect lighting. Isla Johnston and Anya Taylor-Joy are absolutely remarkable playing young and adult Beth Harmon versions, respectively, and their obsessive-compulsive psychotic traits. Isla Johnston seamlessly captures the fragility and fear inside the mind of a young child from the aftermath of a terrible accident that leaves her without her mother. The plot grabs your attention from scene one, carefully manipulating your emotions, leaving you between admiration and disappointment, pride, and disgust. Because of the fantastic job with the soundtrack, camera, and CG, the scenes that Beth is dueling with her opponents makes you believe she has superpowers.
And she probably does. It would be impossible not to mention how the series depicts the women's role in 1960's America. The sharp contrast between Beth's bold attitude towards men and her stepmother's submissive marriage is there to make sure this story is about women's empowerment. It's clear to me that Beth is the superhero of this story, representing not only the female power's materialization with elegance and beauty but the most dangerous kind of power: unbelievable mind skills and unbeatable determination. The scenes clearly showing discrimination against women are there, but you feel that Beth Harmon is just way too damn freaking smart and can smash discrimination like she destroys her chess opponents.
But there's more exciting stuff going on. First, there's loss and the importance of giving yourself some time to grieve. There are depths of desperation when everything appears to be lost but also hope and resilience, showing that even when you mess things up more than once, you're still capable of putting out your best and becoming a winner. It's a story about how competitive we can get with each other and how sometimes we need to stop competing and work together to help someone. That life is pretty damn hard, but sometimes good old friends that were long gone reappear in our lives when we most need them. It's a story about how independent men and women rely on interdependency to thrive.
Pills and alcohol are all over the place, acting as escape valves to the characters' psychological ordeals. Beth's use of sleeping pills throughout the story is an absorbing depiction of how our relationship with our mind can become dangerous. The scene in the orphanage as a child with withdrawal symptoms madly digging into a jar of sleeping pills and then losing consciousness at the soundtrack of a classic motion picture is a perfect opera of euphoria and despair. As she grows up, she relies on her self-destructive behavior to perform at her best while playing chess. Eventually, the special ingredient in the trama kicks in, and it becomes a beautiful lesson of friendship, perseverance, and breakthrough.
It's interesting to see the different roles given to masculine figures inside the story, from the straight troll chauvinist character of Allston Wheatley to the nuanced, almost silent wisdom of Mr. Shaibel. It's also satisfying to see men not being depicted as simplistically good or bad. Even the most menacing man to Beth, Borgov, an absolutely menacing-looking Russian player, shows up to be a decent man in the end. And, of course, there are the ones that will always act like idiots. But even when Beth's assumptions about a man's sexuality get awkward, the story still uses this unrequited love and its closing scenes in a park in Moscow to prove that what really matters is caring for each other.
The Queens Gambit is as elegant as chess and speaks by heart about our human side and women's empowerment when smartphones weren't around and computers were scarce. Or you can see it as an excellent mini-series with an exciting plot created by really talented people. You'll be just fine with both.