Premise: An in-depth look at how the United States government handled the response to the COVID-19 outbreak during the early months of the pandemic.
Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney’s “shot in secret” film about the Trump administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps one of the most important documentaries to come out in the months since the outbreak and the weeks before the 2020 election. Totally Under Control does not aim to present a clear Republicans vs Democrats narrative of the way the US bungled its pandemic response. Instead, Gibney and his team present a compelling and infuriating view of Donald Trump’s antagonistic relationship to science. Totally Under Control paints a vivid picture of how the anti-science views of the Trump administration has contributed to the deaths of over 214,000 Americans and climbing.
The wealth of information presented in Totally Under Control really crystalizes the incompetence and recklessness perpetrated by the people entrusted to help us during a crisis. And it’s infuriating, to say the very least. The documentary features several notable scientists, researches, and doctors who speak in depth about the virus, what was needed to help contain it, and what happened to prevent containing it. There’s one man who stands out, however, is one who volunteered for Jared Kushner’s Supply Chain Task Force and gives an account of such jaw-dropping ineptitude and disorganization that it’s simply astounding.
Presenting its information through a chronological timeline from the earliest detection of the virus in Wuhan to the late summer, Totally Under Control‘s presentation of its information could not be more clear and essential. There’s no mincing of words as several interview subjects show the emotional toll the pandemic has taken and the frustration they feel about everything that’s happened. In particular, a chunk of the film deals with the “Red Dawn” email chains used by prominent doctors and experts to express concerns about the American response to the threat of COVID-19. This showcases the alarming ineptitude of the Trump administration and their assault on science and, frankly, rational thought processes.
As if to underscore the dire state we find ourselves in, the filmmakers adapted to pandemic filmmaking in a unique way. Cameras delivered to subjects with attached tablets showing a video feed of the documentarians were utilized. Likewise, in-person interviews took place with camera operators and crew behind a protective tent-like tarp enclosure with a video feed and camera protruding from it for the subject’s benefit. It’s an interesting approach to filmmaking and the inclusion of it in the finished film provides a subtle reprise of the themes of Totally Under Control.
There is bound to be a wide swath of films and documentaries that will dissect this time in history in the years to come. Documentaries like #Unfit: The Psychology Of Donald Trump, In Case of Emergency, and 76 Days are already out in the world for us to see. While those films have their approaches and their special focuses, I believe Totally Under Control to be one that should be watched by every American who’s somehow finding themselves still undecided this close to the election.
Personally, I can’t wait for the day I can rewatch this (or any of the aforementioned films) and think, “Wow. That really was a horrible time.” Preferably, I would be saying this before going to a movie theater, a restaurant, a social gathering, or even just going to work without the associated existential fear and anxiety I feel now. Time will ultimately tell. For now,” our manager has failed us” and Totally Under Control is a must-watch.
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.