Never has a title of a documentary been more succinct. “The Armstrong Lie” is a compelling, yet confusing story of a hero’s fall from grace.
Documentarian Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side of the Room) seems to get sucked in by Armstrong’s sociopathic lies as he tells the story of a man possessed. Armstrong, who won the Tour de France an amazing 7 times (1999- 2005), and who had survived a testicular cancer that spread from his lungs to his brain, had been under investigation for doping by various anti-doping agencies for many years. Despite the allegations from his teammates, Armstrong was always vehement in his denials that he ever doped. He also made it clear that he had never been proven to have taken performance enhancers.
Armstrong’s story changed drastically when he appeared on a TV interview with Oprah in 2013. In a cold calculated manner, Armstrong sits with Oprah, and in the same matter-of- fact demeanor that he denied using dope, simply admits to her that he had used various doping agents. Is Armstrong a sociopath?
I looked up the definition of a sociopath and I came up with Harvey Cleckly’s definitive 16 characteristics from 1941 which are still used today in diagnosing sociopaths/ psychopaths:
• Superficial charm and good intelligence
• Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
• Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations
• Untruthfulness and insincerity
• Lack of remorse and shame
• Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
• Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
• Pathologic egocentricity and incapacity for love
• General poverty in major affective reactions
• Specific loss of insight
• Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
• Fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol and sometimes without
• Suicide threats rarely carried out
• Sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated
• Failure to follow any life plan
I was immediately struck by the similarities of Armstrong’s behavior and many of the characteristics.
Why the sudden turn around? Was the truth about to be revealed? After Armstrong became ill he had retired, but then he decided to make a comeback in 2009: Armstrong was out to prove that he was Superman. Not only had he defeated cancer, but he was going to win the Tour de France again and prove that he was clean of dope. Lance finished third with a heroic effort, but unfortunately he was checked immediately after the race and was found to have a high red blood cell count (a symptom of using the doping agent EPO). If Armstrong had remained retired and not staged a comeback, he more than likely would have retained his 7 titles and never been caught; but he could not resist.
During the documentary, Gibney appears at first, intent on catching Armstrong in his lies; but in the end he gets mesmerized by athlete’s deception and appears to be rooting for him: Most confusing. This is a very good documentary ─ I recommend it. (Runtime – 122 mins.)
My Rating: 3 of 5 Doping Agents.