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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Icarus is a 2017 documentary about the vast scope of doping in amateur sports. The filmmaker, a competitive amateur bicyclist, begins taking performance-enhancing drugs and hormones under the watch of various doctors, and is shown injecting these drugs and hormones into his thighs and exposed buttocks. "F--k" is constantly used, as is other profanity. However, the depth and gravity of the messages of the documentary far outweigh any profanity issues; the apparent blind eye the International Olympic Committee has taken toward Russia despite overwhelming and rigorous investigation by the worldwide anti-doping organizations should inspire discussion among teens and parents about cheating in sports. It should also inspire timely discussion about the Russian government under Vladimir Putin and what this documentary says about his apparent willingness to win at all costs.
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What's the story?
As an avid and competitive amateur cyclist, Bryan Fogel set out to make a documentary about doping in sports, the competitive culture that would lead cyclists like Lance Armstrong to take performance-enhancing drugs to win and then lie about it, and show that the systems in place were inadequate to stop it. This led to him meeting a Russian doping expert named Grigory Rodchenkov, an athlete turned scientist who guides Fogel through the process of injecting performance-enhancing drugs and steroids, including how much, how often, and when to stop to pass drug tests as he prepares to compete in Haute Route, a cycling race considered to be the toughest in the world. An unlikely bond develops between the two, and a friendship is clearly sealed during Fogel's visit with Rodchenkov in Moscow. As Fogel broods on why his quirky new friend is willing to help him in this project, Rodchenkov's world is turned upside-down after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) presents a damning report on state-sponsored doping of Russian Olympic athletes. Fearing for his friend's life as he begins to see some of the other participants in the scandal die under mysterious circumstances, Fogel helps Rodchenkov escape to America. In the United States, as Rodchenkov fears for his life, he reveals everything he knows about a far-reaching scandal that goes all the way up to Vladimir Putin. As more reports corroborate Rodchenkov's testimony, ICARUS uncovers the modern-day cloak-and-dagger behavior of a country's government willing to cheat for the sake of national pride, and how the numerous gold medal victories from this cheating also elevated Putin's sagging popularity to the point where he had the political leverage to invade neighboring countries and continue with a policy of silencing dissent.
Is it any good?
For anyone concerned with not just doping in sports but also the current international geopolitical climate, this documentary is a must-see. Some documentary filmmakers have their minds made up before filming begins and use their documentary to advance their agenda. Clearly, Icarus was intended to be something like that, where filmmaker Bryan Fogel set out on a Super Size Me-style experiment making him a guinea pig for performance-enhancing drugs. Other documentaries follow the anarchy of a story unfolding right before our eyes, and that's what makes Icarus so riveting. As an audience, we feel as if we're as much in the moment as Fogel and his new friend and whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov are, as the story of what happens when one ambitious and competitive athlete wants to win with performance-enhancing drugs turns into a documentary about what happens when an ambitious and competitive government with a strongman leader wants the athletes representing its country to win at all costs.
What emerges is the kind of Cold War thriller we thought we left behind when the Berlin Wall fell. The damning evidence of the Russian government's efforts to rig the system in its favor and the blind eye the International Olympic Committee takes to these findings under the stated desire to "keep politics out of the Olympics" is astounding, and has obvious corollaries to another extraordinary news story unfolding concerning Russia and American elections in 2017. This aspect of the story makes this required viewing not just for those concerned about how drugs and hormones are used by athletes everywhere to take their game to the next level, but for anyone concerned about Russian government policies under Vladimir Putin.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about sports documentaries. How does Icarus compare to other sports-themed documentaries?
This is an example of a documentary that started out with one purpose, but the circumstances in filming took it into an entirely different direction. Can you think of other documentaries in which the initial idea behind the movie evolved into something else by virtue of filming?
How does the documentary use the George Orwell classic 1984 as a way to structure Grigory's story?
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