The Rise & Fall Of ‘Icarus’

In his acceptance speech at the 90th Oscars ceremony for best documentary feature ‘Icarus’, the director Bryan Fogel said, ‘We dedicate this award to Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, our fearless whistleblower who now lives in great danger. We hope “Icarus” is a wake-up call — yes, about Russia [on its doping practices for the Olympics and its continual denial], but more than that, about the importance of telling the truth, now more than ever.’ Rodchenkov in now under the witness protection program in the States, after spilling the beans to the New York Times. Appropriately, with its frequent references to George Orwell’s book ‘1984’ on how truth can be suppressed and distorted, it was also awarded the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award (Orwell Award).

Icarus from Greek mythology was told by his father Daedalus, who invented his wings, to fly neither too low, to avoid the seawater’s dampness, which might weigh down their feathers; nor too high, to avoid the sun’s heat, which might melt their binding wax. Due to a mix of distraction, indulgence, complacence and hubris, he soared too high, fell from the sky, and plunged into the sea. Instead of taking a safe and swift flight to freedom from a prison island, it became a deadly dive towards death. Perhaps this myth is a cautionary tale on the need to mindfully and prudently take the Middle Path. Otherwise, the higher one goes to one extreme, the harder will one will fall to the other extreme.

As a condition for his freedom, for having earlier trafficked performance-enhancing substances for athletes, Rodchenkov was paradoxically placed in charge of leading the country’s doping program, while keeping up appearances of managing one of the world’s strictest anti-doping laboratories. As he put it, to describe his awkward position – ‘Even to understand the word “doublethink” involves the use of doublethink. I was doing in parallel two things which cancelled out each other and being fully contradictory. Doping and anti-doping.’ Yet, as an ex-sportsman himself, who finally saw honour in the truth, he eventually disclosed the methodology that he helped to devise and conceal.

This is a grave reminder to never be dishonourable in the least, in the very first place, by always observing moral precepts well. Otherwise, one might be held ransom by the dishonourable, to do more of the dishonourable, to become more dishonourable. Even if you honour deals with the dishonourable, they might not. If you play with knives, expect to get cut. With repercussions expected, Rodchenkov tried to restore honour to sports with his whistleblowing, though arguable if he could had whistleblown more safely, not too close to the sun. Well, as the tagline says, ‘Truth is the new banned substance.‘ Then again, throughout history; not just in this post-truth era of fake news, consequential truths are often systematically tweaked by the deceitful to their advantage.

The closing title card reads, ‘This film is dedicated to whistleblowers, who see truth over consequences, and to clean athletes everywhere who choose to play by the rules.’ Homage to all truthsayers and truthseekers. Ironically, this quote is often attributed to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ — ‘During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.‘ This is ironic because in the name of truth, which the quote is trying to highlight, he did not truly say that, though he is most likely agreeable with it. Towards the end, is this actual line of hope from ‘1984’ — ‘We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.‘ With the journey to the light of truth being ever brighter, may we eventually gather to completely realise the eternal peaceful light (常寂光) of enlightenment and liberation (in the centre of Amitabha Buddha’s Pure Land).

Please Be Mindful Of Your Speech, Namo Amituofo!

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