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Speeding the cube – ‘The Speed Cubers’

July 30, 2020
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Have you ever solved a Rubik’s Cube? How long did it take you?

If it was more than a few seconds, then you probably aren’t ready for the world of competitive speedcubing. It’s a world filled with idiosyncratic characters, but there’s no disputing that these people are as devoted to perfecting their craft as any other elite performer. Watching cubing at the highest level is genuinely fascinating – their hands are a blur of speed and motion as they solve cubes in mere seconds.

“The Speed Cubers,” a documentary by Sue Kim, takes a look at two of the greatest competitive cubers ever. The Australian Feliks Demgegs, who spent close to 10 years setting records and winning championships, and the young American Max Park, a prodigy who has spent the past few years shattering many of those same records as he rockets to the top of the scene.

It’s about the unlikely friendship that sprang up between the two rivals – a friendship made all the more moving by Max’s special circumstances. While the cubing itself is certainly impressive, the pure humanity on display is even more striking. It’s a short film – just 40 minutes – but no less impactful because of its brevity.

Feliks Demgegs was just a kid in Australia when he discovered his aptitude for cubing. His exploits quickly became famed within cubing circles, bringing with them a modicum of celebrity. In his teen years, he set every speed cubing record imaginable for all manner of cubes – the familiar 3X3 cube remains the most prestigious, but there are categories all the way up to 7X7 (along with variations like one-handed and blindfolded) – and won the biennial world championships twice (in 2013 and 2015).

But then another figure appeared on the scene, someone capable of breaking even the incredible records set by Feliks.

Max Park lives with his parents in California. When he was young, he was diagnosed with autism; his parents struggled to find ways in which to connect with him. But when Max discovered cubing, it was a light bulb moment. He had found something to be passionate about. And his parents embraced it, helping him ease his way into the competitive scene. It wasn’t long before he was putting up blazing fast times and setting records of his own, even as he stood in awe of his hero – Feliks Demgegs.

To his credit, Feliks was unwaveringly friendly to and supportive of this young upstart. Even as his records fell and his titles were taken, Feliks was nothing but generous toward Max and his family. The relationship between the two grew, and as it did, so too did Max’s ability to engage with the world around him. It’s a tremendously sweet relationship, one born of the purest kindness and empathy.

We watch as the two of them take to the stage for the 2019 world championships, with each looking to make their mark – Feliks hoping to return to the pinnacle and Max seeking to remain there. But regardless of how their cubing plays out, “The Speed Cubers” makes it clear that they’re both victorious.

Watching people who are the best in the world at what they do is always impressive. And speedcubing at the highest levels is undeniably mesmerizing, a combination of deliberation, concentration and dexterity that is unlike anything else you’ve seen. Anyone who has attempted to solve a Rubik’s Cube knows how frustrating it can be, so to bear witness as these people blur through it in mere seconds is pretty incredible.

But what makes “The Speed Cubers” truly special is the friendship between Feliks and Max. One can’t help but be struck by how charming and beautiful the relationship is, the pure heartfelt affection that Feliks has for Max and the adoration Max holds for Feliks. Even as Max struggles to express his feelings, there’s no denying their presence. There’s a brotherly vibe to the dynamic, sweet snapshots such as the dinner when Feliks makes sure that Max eats his vegetables.

“The Speed Cubers” is sprinkled with those moments of vulnerability, all set against the backdrop of elite competition. To see two people at the height of their craft operating as friends as well as rivals truly warms the heart. We all have our puzzles that we seek to unlock; this movie shows us how significant those solutions can be.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Thursday, 30 July 2020 11:00

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