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Icarus : Depiction of George Orwell’s Dystopia in Sports Culture

The documentary's cinematic experience is dragged by the combination of hand-drawn animation, motion graphics, and some archival video

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Khushant Runghe
Khushant Runghe
Covering the entertainment industry which includes reviewing movies, series, anime, comics and movies.

UNITED STATES: Icarus is a story of a L.A. based writer, human rights activist and amateur cyclist Bryan Fogel embarks on a mission to unearth the truth about doping in sports that have lingered in the shadows.

Due to this, he joins an amateur cycling competition where he measures the differences throughout the year without doping. After a secondary year, he indulges in doping. But instead of improving his skills, he fails to do better than previous ones.

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When he meets a Russian scientist Grigory Rodchenkov by coincidence, his world is flipped upside down, from personal experiments to geopolitical thrillers involving strange deaths and Olympic gold, revealing one of the greatest sports scams in history.

What made it Oscar-worthy?

In Icarus, Fogel was enthralled by the case of Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles in 2012 after rejecting years of doping allegations. Lance never tested positive for any of the 50 tests that were conducted. This propels him to uncover the system’s flaw, as Fogel asserts, “If this guy had passed, whatever it is, 500 doping tests over his entire career, clearly the system didn’t work”.

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All of this represents Fogel as a protagonist and his struggle to fix the system’s defects rather than demolish them. Nowadays, high-budget films tend to focus on anti-establishment themes.

If someone has an issue with the system, destroy it as quickly as feasible. Where Icarus displays a deep message that by being a part of the system, one can close its loopholes and flaws.

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It also depicts the horrors of government deception, linking it to George Orwell’s world of “1984,” which deals with the concept of ‘doublethink,’ in which people hold two contradictory viewpoints at the same time, believing both to be correct.

What does it symbolize?

It symbolizes the tale of Icarus from Greek mythology. Daedalus, his father, created wings out of feathers glued together with wax. He then soared too close to the sun, causing the wax to melt and drowning him in the sea. Icarus is used as a metaphor for any athlete who pushes himself to his limits by destructive means and ends up in a bind as a result.

Emotionally attaching persona of Grigory Rodchenkov. In his attempt to pass urine tests, Fogel meets scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, who oversees Russia’s anti-doping lab. He first assists Fogel in his efforts to defeat the anti-doping apparatus. His persona is enthralling, based on his initial Skype call.

When we first meet him, he’s shirtless and cracking jokes, making him an appealing character. Later, he is revealed to be a whistleblower who intended to disclose a flaw in the system without regard for his reputation or life.

His character represents the obligation to the system with frequent mentions of George Orwells ‘ 1984’. Where he believes that Russian society is identical to the dystopia depicted in ‘1984.’

The relationship between Grigory and Fogel as mentors and student grows so flawless that we, as an audience, feel emotionally attached to them. A cinematic blend of traditional documentary and high-quality camera shots.

The cinematography of Jake Swantko and Timothy Rode can be considered as an enhancing factor. The first phase was jam-packed with high-definition cinematic shots that were breathtaking to watch.

The aerial images that show the entire setback of the cycling event, as well as point-of-view shots taken while cycling, maintain their effect. That adds a conventional documentary feel, with high-quality camera shots. The inconsistency of the filming approach becomes grating at times.

The documentary’s cinematic experience is dragged by the combination of hand-drawn animation, motion graphics, and some archival video.


The frightening disclosures in sports culture, skillfully mixed with high-quality camera shots that create a thriller-like experience, are an excellent choice for a documentary. Which, to the very end, raises issues about the horrors of a complicated world and professional sports, evoking George Orwell’s dystopia.

Transcontinental Times ratings: 4/5

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