The gradual reappearance of all the boys and men she’d encountered along the way — the fact that they were supporting her, cheering for her, praying for her — well, I was moved. I appreciated very much this model of masculinity, a model perhaps more aspirational than realistic, but nonetheless stirring.
Two characters, in particular, illustrated for me what true strength, kindness, and masculinity look like — the shaggy, gray-haired Russian champion whose eyes sparkle and whose heart opens when he sees that Beth has recovered her footing and will beat him; and the daunting, handsome, ultra-disciplined Russian world champion who faces Beth in her final match.
How these two men behave in defeat contrasts beautifully with the way a certain high-profile American is dealing with his own very public loss right now. In my view, these fictional Russians behave exactly as we should teach boys in real life to behave, whether playing chess or ice hockey, sitting in a classroom, dating someone, or whatever else. In defeat, the Russian masters lay down their pride and self-regard, open their hearts, and smile at the supernova exploding in front of them. They step back and give the full measure of recognition and respect to the troubled girl who brought it forth. They are moved by the beauty and power of her game. They understand it not only eclipses their own achievements, but that it illustrates, for a moment at least, the mysteries of the universe, the full expression of an exquisite mind. They are honored to be part of her story.