Some days, I’d like to imagine we’re all puppets dangling on numerous strings hung from a ledge beyond our reach. Each strand wraps an element of uncertainty that threatens to derail us from our purpose. Every move we make is an attempt to snip a thread, to eliminate a chance variable, in the hopes of a realm under our control. Our lives are spent seeking this control to hold ourselves, and only ourselves, accountable for the despair we experience.
But the one thing I’ve concluded over the years is that despite our very best efforts, life remains unpredictable.
The Queen’s Gambit is the classic tale of the underdog, set in the 1960s. We know how it ends: we’ve seen it play out a million times. Yet we remain invested while the pawn-to-queen transition is subtly put forth as our protagonist, Beth Harmon, transforms from a quiet young girl to World Champion.
Beth witnessed her world crumble at a young age. She becomes terrified of losing control and turning into her mother, who’d left her orphaned. So she sets her sights on the chessboard, a controllable environment of 64 squares where all moves, all decisions would be the consequence of her actions. As the series progresses, Beth struggles to retain control, both over the chessboard and herself. Each loss is a personal failure, a reminder of how scarce surety can be.
The beauty of the show undoubtedly lies in the characterisation of the people we meet on screen. There is neither black nor white, just varying hues of grey. Both the protagonist, Beth, and the antagonist, Borgov, are shown to be human beings attempting to capture an ounce of control over their lives via the means they know best – chess.
Beth’s final match is mapped out cautiously, with all possible moves calculated beforehand. Despite this, her opponent opts for an unexpected move, a chance variable thrown amidst careful planning. But she remains undaunted, gracefully manoeuvring over the slopes of unreliability, and emerges triumphant.
Beth Harmon is a reflection of ourselves – flawed, scared and vulnerable. Her sorrows mirror our own, as do her victories. We seek comfort in her, realising that there is always a glimmer of hope amidst the intangible unknown. Her triumph is a symbol, reiterating something we’ve known all our lives: life hurts, yes, but it also heals.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.