We've all been raised to respect our elders, but whichever ancient came up with the Myth of Icarus was total garbage. Sorry to be so harsh, but it's true. A widely accepted morality tale that warns against trying too hard and being too adventurous? For the record: everyone should exceed limits and and everyone should be curious. Where's the allegory about choking to death on Cheetos or having a heart-attack while watching HSN? Exactly — there isn't one. Let's bury that Icarus myth in the elephant graveyard of bad education.
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The Icarus myth is name-checked right up front in Matt Sheridan's Birdmen: The Original Dream of Flight, but despite the film's myriad examples of death and destruction at the cruel hands of gravity, this documentary still serves as a glorious rebuttal to that ancient folktale. Sure, most of us probably won't be jumping out of planes or off of cliffs or even, for that matter, donning nylon flying squirrel suits and gliding over picturesque French villages, but that doesn't mean it's not an absolute thrill to witness the sexy adrenaline junkies of this documentary GoPro-ing it for the rest of us.
At only 52 minutes, Birdmen crams in tons of background info about the origins of wingsuiting, in addition to countless stunning images of men and women gliding horizontally over impossible vistas. While there's nothing in my brain that says, "Oh yes, I've got to try that," Birdmen nonetheless thoroughly explores and justifies that instinct in others.
All that said, Birdmen isn't lighthearted. Death lurks at the corner of every frame; its shadow is omnipresent. For nearly every pioneer to advance the science of wingsuiting, there's a corpse. Roughly all of the big names in this field died for their sport, which is as tragic a notion as it is face-palm worthy. It's an all-ages documentary, so the footage is never grisly, but a later segment involving video clips of the final jumps of a brilliant Swiss physicist (and wingsuit developer) made my heart race: would Birdmen really show footage from his fatal flight? No — it doesn't end up treading into Faces of Death territory, don't worry. But make no mistake, this documentary is as much a sobering exploration of the risks of wingsuiting as it is an insightful look at just why people would accept those risks. (Also, it will make you deeply jealous of birds.)
So how did you feel about Birdmen: The Original Dream of Flight? Let's talk about this thing!
Possible Discussion Topics
1. When the wingsuiters "flocked together" and then celebrated on the ground with all the fervor of a revivalist meeting — is there a fine line between communal thrill-seeking and a rowdy churchgoing experience?
2. That part when the one wingsuiter navigated The Crack: Um, wow. Discuss.
3. Were these the saddest dedication credits ever? It sure felt like it.
4. Did these wingsuiters seem particularly, uh, attractive to you, or do thrill-seekers just have a natural radiant sexiness for those of us who are more grounded?
5. Did wingsuiting look at all appealing to you, or are you more like, "Wake me when they can fly upward"?
6. Should flying remain limited to "demons, gods, and mythological creatures"? Be honest.