"Icarus" by Paul Bochner
Exhibit @ UW Manifest
Assignment @ UW Canvas
Kyle L. Schaer
The myth of Icarus and Daedalus has managed to make its way into the modern world through many different forms of media. Whether referenced in music, video games, or movies and TV shows, it is hard to ignore its presence. A great adaption of this myth is the short animated film called Icarus by Paul Bochner. Throughout this essay, I hope to add my own personal thoughts to the film and bring a new perspective to the myth’s interpretation.
While the film is only about eight minutes long, there are many impactful scenes and design choices in this film that make it a very valuable resource for the Icarus myth. Starting with the animation, I truly think this was a great visual medium for the film. Artwork and sculptures have always played a huge role in how Greek and Roman mythology has been portrayed and I think choosing to have the film animated was a great way to continue this artistic expression. Each scene feels as if it is a painting, and it is a very effective way to tell the story. I also enjoyed Bochner’s choice to use music rather than create character dialog. I feel that this allows the audience to interpret the myth in their own way without any commentary influencing their interpretations. In Classical Mythology, the idea of mythical interpretations is described in detail (Morford et al. 3-26). Whether it be psychoanalysis, metaphorical, ritualistic, structuralism, and many others, there is no shortage of interpretations. I think Bochner removing words within the film allows for a continuation of this interpretation from the audience. The music itself is also a great choice as it brings in various instrumental elements such as the flute and a combination of stringed instruments. While the soundtrack is relatively simple, it creates an atmosphere behind every scene and for me, it felt as if the music was within the film rather than just simply attached.
Another effective part of this film was the scene choices and how they were presented. Lots of close-up shots were used for Daedalus and Icarus to emphasize their emotions which I thought was very powerful. The most impactful scene to me was the final scene where Icarus flies too close to the sun. The strobe-like flashing of images made the sun feel more violent and explosive which really pulled me into the scene. I also found it interesting the way Bochner interpreted the ending of the Icarus myth. He chose to have Icarus fly out into space towards the sun and catch on fire before falling back towards Earth. In the version told by Ovid (Metamorphoses Book 8) the death of Icarus was translated as “the soft’ning wax, that felt a nearer sun, dissolv’d apace, and soon began to run. The youth in vain his melting pinions shakes, his feathers gone, no longer air he takes”. As mentioned in this passage, Icarus falls to his death due to the wax melting on his wings whereas Bochner had the interpretation that Icarus caught fire. I think Bochner’s interpretation adds more of a dramatic feel to Icarus’s death and allows for a more intense scene. Overall, I enjoyed Bochner’s adaption of the Icarus myth, and it is a unique and artistic addition to the world of myth.
The story of Icarus--a young man doomed by his own carelessness and ambition--has cautioned audiences against allowing their excitement to blind them to fatal risks for millenia. Ovid, in the first century AD, renders this story and its world as part of his interconnected multi-myth epic Metamorphoses in polished dactylic hexameter. By contrast, Paul Bochner, through his 8 minute-long 1974 animated short-film "Icarus", delivers a remarkable telling of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus through pencil sketches, rough animations, and detailed still drawings. Through this telling, audiences receive the ancient story through an animation that has promising fundamentals but feels technically incomplete. Bochner delivers a film that, like Icarus himself, seems to have missed its opportunity to achieve refinement and maturity.
Other tellings of this myth, such as Ovid's, place the escape of Daedalus and Icarus as a part of a larger drama where Daedalus is banished from Athens to Crete after committing a murder. Traditionally, Daedalus is a craftsman who manages to build two pairs of wings so that he and his son might escape Crete, Minos, and the Labyrinth (Morford 600-601). While this remains true in Bochner's version, traditional narratives like Ovid's remain attached to other well-known mythological characters, such as Minos and the Minotaur, and lends itself to broader, speech-driven tellings. For example, Ovid employs direct speech in his telling:
"Icarus, I advise you to take a middle course. If you fly too low, the sea will soak the wings; if you fly too high, the sun's heat will burn them. Fly between the sea and the sun (Morford 601-602)!"
Ovid also uses indirect speech to similar effect to move the story along:
As he gave the instructions for flying, he fitted the novel wings to Icarus' shoulders. While he worked and gave his advice, the old man's face was wet with tears and his hands trembled with a father's anxiety (Morford 602).
Bochner's minimalist "Icarus," however, has no dialogue or even sounds to accompany the characters' actions or to establish relationships. Instead of dialogue or sounds, the artist employs a musical track which sets the mood for each scene, often mixing different flavors of playful and anxious at different ratios. Instead of establishing a larger world which informs the characters' predicament, the short piece focuses on establishing each of the characters within the labyrinth, the escape of Daedalus and Icarus, followed by the demise of Icarus while Daedalus watches helplessly. Without dialogue, Bochner's Daedalus does not express the dangers of flight in a way the audience can understand explicitly, but illustrations of a devastated Daedalus and animations of Icarus burning, flying near the sun make the fatality of Icarus's mistake clear.
Bochner also captures the relationship between his Daedalus and Icarus through his animation, rather than indirect speech and narration as Ovid does. Preceding their doomed flight, a series of compelling animated scenes let us know that an old man and a young man--who we can assume are Daedalus and Icarus--are trapped in a labyrinth, guarded by a bull-headed beast which eats things that don't manage to fly away in time, such as a bird. Bochner wordlessly establishes who Daedalus and Icarus are in these early scenes, including a particularly striking one where Icarus examines his own labyrinth-like thumbprint as if realizing that he's been confined to a single isolated spot in a larger, more interesting world.
While the minotaur is present in this portrayal and we are to understand he is grieved by their escape, he and his labyrinth represent the extent of the larger mythological world realized in the short film. Daedalus's crime and relationship with Minos seems irrelevant to the film's short Icarus-focused plot. While the minotaur and the labyrinth still represent constraints for them to escape, this telling of the myth focuses instead on Icarus' potential to mature into an old man and to ascend into the sky.
Finally, in this portrayal of Icarus, Bochner gives prominence to Icarus' body through framing, illustration, and most especially through a kind of motion study animation as Icarus runs and ultimately flies. In this way, Brochner lets us know that Icarus is not only on the "manhood" side of puberty and maturation, but is carefree and unrestrained in his execution of adulthood. Bochner's Icarus is, appropriately, at odds with the poised and tidy ideal of a Greek young man as shown by Kouros statues.
Brochner's rendering of the Icarus myth is striking and haunting. Since the film focuses so much on Icarus, perhaps it is appropriate that it seems to take place in a world more isolated and incomplete than Ovid's. The artist's use of a modern medium, and incomplete-looking material, and minimalist style provide viewers with a new focus for Icarus, giving audiences the impression of a wider world, barely seen before it's all over.
In the following paragraphs, I will analyze Icarus, filmed by Paul Bochner in 1974, and the main differences between the story of Icarus depicted in our lectures and readings and the way this short animated film presents this myth of Icarus.
In the lecture, we learned that Icarus was the son of Daedalus In Greek mythology, who wanted to leave Crete but was prevented by Minos. In order to be able to escape from Crete, Daedalus invented feathered wings, using feathers and wax, for himself and Icarus. However, Icarus failed to listen to his father’s advice of not to fly too high and eventually died in the sea due to the melting of the wax on his wings, which was named Mare Icarium(the Icarian Sea) ever since (La Fond, 5).
In the film, Icarus, Paul Bochner animated it using drawings showing every character’s facial expression and action vividly, music facilitating each character’s emotion change and the story’s highs and lows, and colors strengthening the story’s flow and each character’s feelings. All these features of this film allows the audience to be attracted throughout the whole film, to follow the story better, and to gain a deeper understanding of Daedalus and Icarus as well as their actions, emotions, and the reasons behind their actions and feelings. I personally feel very connected to Daedalus and Icarus and their happiness when they succeeded their escape using the invented feathered wings, Icarus being obsessed with the enormous sky and being able to fly and even perform flying tricks approaching the sun, and Daedalus’s emotion changes from happy to worried to annoyed by watching Icarus not listening to his warnings and keep flying higher. The vivid expression of the character’s actions and emotions also allows the audience to reflect on the interpretation of the myth and the important lesson of always understanding and remembering one’s limit and not to “fall prey to hubris”(La Fond, 5).
There are two major differences between the story told in this film and the story presented in class. First, in the readings, Daedalus and Icarus were trying to escape from Crete simply because Daedalus got tired of his life in Crete (Morford et. al, 601). This escape has no relation with the minotaur, a massive bull-headed and man-eating monster in the labyrinth, which is actually built by Daedalus (La Fond, 4-5). However, in the film, Daedalus and Icarus were trapped in the labyrinth and invented the wings to escape from the labyrinth and the minotaur. Second, in the readings, Icarus fell in the sea on earth (Morford et. al, 601). However, in the film, Icarus flew higher and higher and even flew out of earth and into the vast universe, and after his wind got burned by the heat of sun, Icarus did not fall into any sea and instead gradually vanished in the universe among the stars.
Although there are differences between the film and the myth presented in class, the interpretations and educational lessons are the same. Specifically, an unrealistic ambition and hubris can destroy or even kill one. I personally find this film not only educational, but also intriguing and entertaining, and therefore is a good representation for the exhibition of the myth of Icarus.
The myth of Icarus and Daedalus has been widely interpreted within our society as we know it today. This myth has been incorporated into musicals such as “Hamilton” and seen as a prime example to teach lessons with the message the myth includes, which I will analyze within the following essay. The short film, Icarus, by Paul Bochner, depicts the myth with various images and scenes to capture the basis of the myth itself. Within this essay, I will analyze the interpretation of Bochner’s animation alongside my personal interpretations of the story of Icarus and Daedalus.
Bochner was able to captivate the basis of the myth of Icarus and Daedalus within his short film by presenting scenes with descriptive properties. The film is a collection of scenes detailing the myth from beginning to end which I believe is valuable to understanding the story of Daedalus and Icarus. While paying close attention to the storyline of the myth, Bochner also emphasizes and highlights each character’s facial expressions within his film. This allows the viewer to understand the feelings amongst Daedalus and Icarus as we know Daedalus succeeded in creating two pairs of wings for him and his son to escape Crete (La Fond 02:00-02:13). Hearing about Daedalus and Icarus’ story is nice, however, seeing the story played out with the expressions of joy on both individuals’ faces shows how proud Daedalus must have been to have provided an escape for him and his son. This emphasis on expressions throughout the film allows readers to deeply understand and connect with Daedalus and Icarus as we too feel the joy the two must have felt as they soared through the sky.
Coming towards the end of the film, the viewers can expect the scene where Icarus flies too close to the sun and then melts the wax off of his wings and falls from the sky (La Fond 02:26-02:36). While watching this scene in the film, I enjoyed Bochner’s interpretations of Daedalus’s feelings as he watched his son disobey his orders and continue flying close to the sun. Alongside this, his interpretation of Icarus “falling to the prey of hubris” by showing him flying in circles and doing tricks within the sky shows his over-self confidence in himself which ultimately leads to his demise. By providing these scenes, I feel as though Bochner did this to accurately show the ending of the myth but to also lead the viewers to their own interpretations of how Daedalus must have felt watching his son, and how Icarus must have felt as he soared through the skies. This is a key within Greek mythology as many myths are stories, however, are also left to the interpretation of the audience as they can decide how they want to perceive the lessons the myths hold.
After watching the film Icarus, I gained an even deeper understanding of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus and have concluded that the lesson within this myth is to not succumb to the negatives of others to the point where it leads to your own demise. I believe that Icarus knew that Daedalus truly knew what he was talking about when he told him not to fly too close to the sun or the sea. However, Icarus perhaps wanted to prove to the gods that he too could be one of them once he gained a glimpse of their world as he soared the skies. With this, I interpreted this myth as a lesson that focusing on the limits of what people think of you and trying so hard to prove them wrong can mislead you from your own morals.
Paul Bochner’s 1974 animated short Icarus presents the classic Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus in a unique and visually interesting way. This film has no dialogue, so much of the information that would have been passed to the viewer through the words of the characters or narrator in the original myth has to be shown through movement and symbolism in the film.
The film begins with images of nature including trees, bee hives, and eventually focuses on a bird which flies above a large maze. We are then shown that this maze holds the minotaur, a massive bull-headed man who guards the labyrinth. In another section of the labyrinth, we see Daedalus and Icarus for the first time. The duo has been collecting beeswax and feathers for Daedalus’ latest invention; artificial wings that allow the wearer to fly. Daedalus and Icarus are able to escape the maze and the beast that guards it by using these wings.
The most familiar retelling of the myth of Daedalus and Icarus can be found in Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses. In Ovid’s retelling Daedalus and Icarus are not imprisoned within the labyrinth, but are instead held on the island of Crete by the order of King Minos (Ovid. 183-235). King Minos does not make an appearance in the film, but he is an important character in multiple classic Greek myths. Minos had asked Daedalus to build the labyrinth for him, and Daedelus was a valued member of his court. He did not want to lose Daedalus’ brilliant mind, so he forbade him from travelling away from Crete (Morford et. al, 601). Additionally, Daedalus and Icarus do not encounter the minotaur in Metamorphoses. In Ovid’s retelling the minotaur would have actually been slain by Theseus prior to Daedalus and Icarus’ escape (Ovid. 152-182).
The original myth depicts the wax used to build Icarus’ wings melting as he ascends closer to the sun, but the film has a different way of showing his downfall. Instead of his wings melting, Icarus continues rising higher and higher, eventually breaking through the atmosphere. As he continues flying towards the sun it suddenly explodes with bright flashing colors, which causes Icarus to erupt in flames. In the myth, Icarus’ wings fail and he falls into the sea (Morford et. al. 602). The film ends on a different note, Icarus does not fall to earth and instead slowly fades into the distance and gets lost among the stars. In Ovid’s retelling Daedalus survives his flight and is able to retrieve and bury his son in a tomb on an island. This island would go on to be known as Icaria (Ovid. 183-235). In the film, we are not shown what occurs after Icarus dies.
Although this film does not follow the story of the myth with pinpoint accuracy, it does teach the viewer the same morals that would be gained from the original story. That message being that confidence and arrogance can bring one to great heights, but it can also cause a disastrous downfall.
Morford, Mark, et al. Classical Mythology. 11th ed., Oxford University Press, 2018.
Ovid. “Metamorphoses Book VIII (A. S. Kline’s Version).” The Ovid Collection, University of Virginia Libraries, ovid.lib.virginia.edu/trans/Metamorph8.htm. Accessed 3 Aug. 2021.
La Fond, Marie. “Back to Athens, Side Trip to Crete: Theseus” Greek and Roman Myth. University of Washington, August 2021, https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/1457478/pages/lesson-9-video-lectures?module_item_id=13108146. Accessed 2 August 2021.