Net­flix's New Doc­u­men­tary “Icarus” Goes In­side Rus­sia's Olympic Cheating

The Jewish Voice - - ARTS AND CULTURE - By: Paul Crook­ston

Icarus, a new doc­u­men­tary on Net­flix about Rus­sian dop­ing scan­dals, tells a story of Olympic cheating so wide­spread and com­pre­hen­sive that its pro­gen­i­tor ex­plained how it came to be by in­vok­ing Ge­orge Or­well's Nine­teen Eighty-Four.

Filmmaker Bryan Fo­gel set out to ex­plore how dop­ing af­fects am­a­teur cy­cling and ended up shel­ter­ing the run­away mas­ter­mind of Rus­sia's staterun dop­ing ap­pa­ra­tus. Grig­ory Rod­chenkov was both the pri­mary op­er­a­tor of Rus­sia’s clan­des­tine sys­tem and also the leaker who gave the New York Times and a grand jury all the dirty de­tails about the ef­fort. Icarus shows how Rod­chenkov ran Rus­sia's "anti-dop­ing" pro­gram as the per­fect scam to beat ev­ery test the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee (IOC) could throw at him—but then fled Rus­sia when it all started to col­lapse.

Icarus cap­i­tal­izes on the fact that most of its view­ers have pri­mar­ily ex­pe­ri­enced the Olympics through a screen. The sight of vic­to­ri­ous ath­letes on the medal stand car­ries as­so­ci­a­tions of com­pe­ti­tion and fair play that the film in­verts, as it does with much of the Olympics' im­agery. Seen in a doc­u­men­tary about many re­cent cham­pi­ons cheating, the cer­e­monies, chis­eled ath­letes, and spiffy uni­forms have the op­po­site res­o­nance com­pared to the ini­tial tele­vi­sion broad­cast. This fa­mil­iar­ity of the Olympic view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence gives Icarus a qual­ity that writ­ten ac­counts of Rus­sia’s sundry mis­deeds can’t quite repli­cate.

As Icarus be­gins to fo­cus on Rus­sian ath­letes, we learn that the cor­rup­tion goes all the way up to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. As it turns out, the feck­less IOC is some­thing of an ideal ad­ver­sary for the KGB agent-turned-strong­man. It was no match for Rod­chenkov's chem­istry and the FSB's mus­cle—cer­tainly not on the Rus­sians' home turf at the Sochi Olympic Games in 2014—and there’s a grim sat­is­fac­tion in see­ing how Rus­sia or­ches­trated its record medal haul by seiz­ing in­crim­i­nat­ing urine sam­ples from the Olympic lab. It’s also an im­pres­sive bit of film­mak­ing, com­bin­ing Rod­chenkov’s tes­ti­mony, footage from the games, and dig­i­tal mod­els of the buildings.

Given the size and scale of these events, one won­ders why we spend the first third of the film on Fo­gel's ill-fated at­tempt at a cy­cling doc­u­men­tary. He was in­ter­ested in per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs and took them un­der guid­ance from Rod­chenkov; watch­ing him Skype with Rod­chenkov and in­ject steroids into his but­tocks is un­likely to strike view­ers as a rea­son to keep watch­ing. How­ever, Fo­gel takes his time—at 2 hours and 4 min­utes, Icarus runs 40 min­utes longer than my doc­u­men­tary of ref­er­ence, This Is Spinal Tap—to de­velop what he calls his "bro­mance" with Rod­chenkov.

This helps view­ers see Rod­chenkov as Fo­gel sees him: a goofy, clever sci­en­tist caught up in in­trigue con­trolled by men not at all like him. Rod­chenkov saw him­self as a char­ac­ter out of Nine­teen Eighty-Four, a book he read il­le­gally in the Soviet Union. He had to prac­tice dou­ble­think to main­tain false­hoods for the sake of the regime—and his own safety. Hold­ing onto faith through the prac­tice of dou­ble­think is in­tel­lec­tual but also emo­tional: Putin res­cued him from prison to re­turn to his craft and, in Rod­chenkov's words, re­deemed him.

The film also ex­plores how dou­ble­think can in­fect pol­i­tics any­where. This be­comes painfully clear when Rod­chenkov is shown pon­der­ing the con­se­quences of deny­ing re­al­ity just be­fore view­ers see IOC pres­i­dent Thomas Bach an­nounce a slap on the wrist for Rus­sia.

Some view­ers may be re­luc­tant to as­cribe heroic mo­tives to Rod­chenkov's turn as a wit­ness against the Krem­lin. But regimes like Putin’s Rus­sia invest a great deal of en­ergy into con­trol­ling not only those who live within them but what in­for­ma­tion es­capes into the rest of the world. Rod­chenkov got out, and, by shar­ing what he knows, has taken the first steps to­ward re­deem­ing him­self.

As Icarus be­gins to fo­cus on Rus­sian ath­letes, we learn that the cor­rup­tion goes all the way up to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin

Icarus, a new doc­u­men­tary on Net­flix about Rus­sian dop­ing scan­dals, tells a story of Olympic cheating so wide­spread and com­pre­hen­sive that its pro­gen­i­tor ex­plained how it came to be by in­vok­ing Ge­orge Or­well's Nine­teen Eighty-Four.

Filmmaker Bryan Fo­gel (pic­tured above) set out to ex­plore how dop­ing af­fects am­a­teur cy­cling and ended up shel­ter­ing the run­away mas­ter­mind of Rus­sia's state-run dop­ing ap­pa­ra­tus

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.