Impenetrable

02.08.14

Sochi’s Impenetrable, Utterly Russian Opening Ceremony

Creepy montages, breathtaking historical amnesia, a stray dog inside the stadium, and a set designer who’s likely on the way to Siberia right now for an Olympic ring failure.

The Sochi Opening Ceremony has come and gone, and like everything Russian, it was tasteful, simple, and flawlessly executed.

That was a joke, of course. Just as every Olympics’ Opening Ceremony showcases the national character (Canada: Charming! Slightly bumbling! So lovable!) or ambitions (China: We Will Own Everyone and Everything Soon, Here Are 100,000 Drummers), Russia was its very Russia-est self for three hours that included confusion, beauty, terror, amnesia of every single thing that has happened in the past 150 preceding years, and a stray dog that somehow survived the Great Dog-Killing Purge.

The land of plutocrats, crushing human-rights abuses, impossibly beautiful women, and all-gold-everything outdid itself as it told the story of one little girl who dreams of fish-shaped villages, a ballet treatment of War and Peace, and the glorious Severed Heads of Revolutionary Spirit.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 07:  A general view of the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Lionel Bonaventure - Pool/Getty Images)
Pool photo by Lionel Bonaventure

The first hint of the double-toilet-style operations issues came as the recalcitrant fifth Olympic ring refused to open. Even now, if you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can almost hear the hungry wolves, circling a cold and desperate set designer. That is not a joke; it’s mandated under Russian statute. Sorry, set design guy!

The Olympic rings are presented during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI        (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty

You could also see the first of many instances of Big Group Representative Dances Where One or Two People Did NOT Memorize Their Cues and Were Consequently a Half-Step Behind Throughout. I’m not saying I could do any better at this sort of thing, but I would absolutely put, say, the Ohio State Marching Band up against them anytime. This would never have flown in Beijing, I’ll tell you that much.

2014 Winter Olympics: View of traditional dancers draped in russian flags with band in background during opening ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium.
Adler, Russia 2/7/2014
CREDIT: David E. Klutho (Photo by David E. Klutho /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X157603 TK1 R1 F72 )
David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated/Getty

Also, if you’ve ever looked at a teddy bear and thought, “Man, this is great. But I really wish I could have one with the soulless eyes of Vladimir Putin,” then I have some wonderful news for you vis-a-vis the mascot.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty; Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

All the countries came in—the Jamaican bobsled team (thanks, Reddit!) and Canadians among the most popular; the Americans, as the BBC announcer put it, “wearing some of the loudest knitwear we’ve ever seen” (U!S!A! U!S!A!) and that was well and good.

The historical montage, however, was the weirdest, Russian-est, and therefore best part of the proceedings. The floor projections were dazzling, the fish-shaped village magical, and the view back at the golden days of 20th-century Russia absolutely accurate—Soviet Russia is for lovers!

Artists perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics at the Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty

Spirits were high as blood-red farm equipment was on the march, crushing doubts and pessimism like so many misplaced forearms!

Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Charlie Riedel/AP

Then, it was time for the doves of peace—or, unfortunately as it sounds to American ears when rendered in a Russian accent, the Dumps of Pees.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 07:  Dancers perform during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Fisht Olympic Stadium on February 7, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

As the Doves of Peace/Dumps of Pees/jellyfish ladies/virus cells spun and spun (lots of visual interpretations there), the following jokes were made in terrible Russian accents:

“In Russia, beautiful Dump of Pees adorns each and every mantle.”

“Just when spirits are lowest, sometimes, we look to sky and see giant flock of dumps soaring together overhead.”

“Putin—the biggest pees-maker of all. Vith a heart like hawk, and a soul of dump!”

This would never have flown in Beijing, I’ll tell you that much.

Then, after a brief debate over whether or not it’s OK to make fun of Russian accents (yes) and Russian people (no), what was supposed to be a moving tribute to peace (yes, because Russia paying tribute to peace is like Sarah Palin paying tribute to scientific inquiry) and Russia itself (yes, yes, a thousand times yes), it was time for what we can all agree was the most stunning synchronized rollerblading display that anyone has ever seen.

Under the glow of the beautiful hockey-player constellations (used by ancient Russian mariners to guide them home), the rollerbladers swirled and twirled and mostly kept in formation except for that one guy who still could not hold it together. Finally, the celestial hockey puck was shot—has anyone adequately explained yet Putin’s hockey obsession?—and it was Torch Time.

After a montage that looked like it was shot in 1973, five Beloved Russian Athletes and one Putin’s Girlfriend jogged around with the torch for about 30 minutes, and then finally—finally—the climax neared. Russian Alec Baldwin and Russian Lady that Tweeted Something Racist About the Obamas trotted toward the great flame and whooooosh, up it went into the sky, just like the hopes and dreams of Russia’s sexual minorities.

Russia's torchbearers Irina Rodnina (L) and Vladislav Tretyak prepare to light the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics on February 7, 2014, in Sochi. AFP PHOTO/ POOL / MATT SLOCUM        (Photo credit should read MATT SLOCUM/AFP/Getty Images)
Matt Slocum/AFP/Getty

Happy Sochi Olympics, everyone!