“Icarus” is not one to miss

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The Seabury Tides

“Icarus,” a documentary of interesting fates, is not one to skip over.

“They are all doping.” 

Anti-doping scientist Don Catlin states the facts plain and simple. In a modern world dominated by professional sports, athletes often use dangerous anabolic steroids to enhance their performance. And they get away with it. 

“Icarus,” released in 2017, documents amateur cyclist, Bryan Fogel’s, experiment with steroids and how he found himself in the middle of a Russian doping scandal. Interested in how doping works and how so many athletes successfully pass doping tests, Fogel cooperates with Russian scientist, Grigory Rodchekov, to design a system that would pass all doping tests in the world. 

Fogel takes us through his strict regime of daily steroid injections in preparation for the Haute Route in the French and Swiss alps. The film transitions from Fogel’s experiment to international allegations against Russia for sponsoring an Olympic doping program. As director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory that tested all the athletes for the Sochi Olympics in 2014, Rodchekov’s experience and knowledge put him in a dangerous position. 

What starts as Fogel’s personal monologue develops into a nail-biting investigation of one of the world’s most mysterious superpowers. Directed by Fogel himself, this documentary is the perfect combination of an action-packed sports film, a scientist’s powerful confession, and the development of a unique friendship amidst a dangerous conflict. 

While watching “Icarus,” I was immediately hooked by the remarkable footage of athletes pushing the boundaries of the human body. The film shows the breathtaking landscapes of the French and Swiss alps as Fogel and other cyclists participate in the amateur version of the Tour de France. 

The filmmakers of Icarus wove together a variety of media types, ranging from recorded Skype chats to animations. One thing is for sure: this film is far from boring. Say goodbye to long, monotonous interviews. 

Fogel’s doping program takes us behind the scenes to provide a glimpse into the secret lives of many professional and Olympic athletes. For some, this truth may be disturbing. The footage includes scenes of Fogel injecting steroids with large needles and plenty of urine samples. 

Fair warning: if needles make you squeamish, maybe skip over those scenes. However, the documentation of Fogel’s doping regime only endures a small section of the overall film, so a fear of needles is not the reason to skip over this documentary. 

“Icarus” even incorporates a level of comedy that adds balance to the serious matter of doping machination. With his outgoing personality and often unfiltered sense of humor, viewers will find it impossible not to love Rodchenkov. 

The documentary does an excellent job at portraying the special and unprecedented bond that forms between Fogel and Rodchekov. I found myself rooting for the mastermind behind many of Russia’s strategies to avoid anti-doping tests. After watching this film, you will look at whistleblowers of the Russian government with a new level of respect. 

Another intriguing aspect of “Icarus” is the recurring allusions to George Orwell’s 1984. Rodchekov continuously refers to the dystopian novel as a form of comparison to his life in modern-day Russia, elevating the level of mystery and conspiracy. Fans of 1984, this film is for you. 

Icarus beautifully depicts an unusual, dangerous personal experiment with performance-enhancing drugs while diving into the complex, thrilling conflict between Russia and the world. Gold medals, stained urine, and “Big Brother;” be sure to add “Icarus” to your Netflix watchlist.

★★★★½