Totally Under Control Review: A little late to the discussion, but offers unique perspectives
2020 likely won’t be remembered for the countless ongoing protests against police brutality and race discrimination, the deaths of many notable celebrities or prominent figures, or even the presidential election. Rather, the narrative of the year will likely be consumed by the impact of coronavirus/COVID-19 in the same way that the country is currently being consumed by it as the infection rate grows astronomically. As someone who views the rising numbers every day, especially in my home state of New Jersey, the major question that constantly comes to mind is: How did things get this far? The answers seem obvious on paper – a lack of logical leadership, a lot of miscommunication and disbelief, finger-pointing and blame passing, and sheer negligence to preserve personal reputation over human lives.
However, there’s much more to delve into why the COVID-19 pandemic has gotten worse and what out future looks like and NEON’s new documentary, Totally Under Control, fleshes out what’s exactly been going on since COVID-19 has entered and altered our lives. The film, directed by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger, showcases how COVID-19 has not only persisted to be a serious problem in the US, but how other countries are handling the virus. Now, nothing here ever comes off incredibly shocking since the negligence and lack of initiative by leaders of the US has been clear and even some of this information isn’t too late. Totally Under Control isn’t the kind of documentary or exposé that can necessarily change the tide of current thrashing political ocean we find ourselves in. However, through its research and facts of action, or lack thereof, the film delivers a cautious warning of political corruption and interference.
Hearing statements from both former health professionals that worked under the White House during the pandemic as well as current doctors and healthcare professionals working while coronavirus is spreading, there’s this overwhelming sense of relief and regret that can be felt with every word. As they talk about the obstacles, they faced from the White House’s contradictory mentality towards suppressing the virus, it’s almost like this overbearing weight is being lifted off of their shoulders. Any attempt to make the public aware of the severity of coronavirus, create any sort of plan to slow the infection rate, or gather testing or safety supplies was met with harsh criticism that questioned loyalty instead of trusting appointed officials and took control of messaging something they had no real knowledge of or genuine care to take seriously.
For a lot of people, the jobs and reputations they took so long to build and the ethics they were taught to maintain as scientists and healthcare professionals were suddenly put in jeopardy if they didn’t “play ball” with what the White House wanted. This is where the film’s deeply human impact can be felt as many of the interviewee carry this deep-seeded regret and anger for how coronavirus has been handled. A lot of times they had the tools in front of them or the know how to take the next steps to make a deeper impact but were never taken serious enough to do anything. Thus, they were forced to see the numbers rise, watch their colleagues, mainly hospital nurses and doctors, suffer as more people became hospitalized and their mental health took a heavy toll, and not be able to do much about it without going against the White House. Even when they did try to get the truth out or make an impactful change, they were labeled as traitors, silenced and eliminated from their positions, and even made fun of on the way out the door by Trump when he talked to the media. It’s a clear example of politics meddling in places where it shouldn’t and interfering in necessary scientific progress – something that’s unapologetically delved into with an open heart and mind in this film.
The film also explore how and why the Trump Administration had such a lack of initiative in dealing with coronavirus outbreak and how their selfish actions caused major setbacks. From causing the states to bid on ventilators in order to supply their hospitals and then outbidding them to get it through them to forcing the governor of California Gavin Newsom to make a public thank you to Trump in order to get supplies, if there’s anything that halted progress in this containing coronavirus, aside from an attention whore complex, it’s an ugly amount of pride. Rather than take initiative and get ahead on the spread of the virus, Trump and his administration did everything to make it seem non-existent or minimal and this film is a clear showing of that. With clips from new broadcasts and Trump talking in front of the media and at rallies, his contradictory demeanor and words that conflict with what professionals were saying shows his deliberate attempts to quell worry rather than make real progress – unlike other countries.
The best thing that’s showcased in Totally Under Control and why it’s such an important film to watch is how it chronicles the spread and efforts to contain coronavirus in the US and other countries -specifically South Korea. Seeing how different countries tackled the spread of coronavirus and the specific timeline as to how they tested, got supplies, and created systems to slow the spread, really paints a clear picture as to how far behind the US is in grappling with this pandemic. All of the lack of effort and Trump’s clear focus on keeping people in the dark and more focused on his reelection really hit you like a truck through this aspect and it creates this view of severity not only for coronavirus, but also the strength of the US in a way that you rarely see. While seeing how coronavirus is being tackled outside of the country is great and paints a unique perspective of things, it would’ve been nice to see the film also tackle other things happening in the US, like unemployment and protests, and their impact on coronavirus. It would’ve helped maybe alleviate the, admittedly, overly liberal view of the film, but also given different perspectives outside of health officials on ways they adjusted because of the virus. However, the film still finds ways to get under your skin enough to make you think and want to take action – something this country desperately needs.
Totally Under Control might be too little, too late in providing viewers with new information on coronavirus and how the US has failed to contain it, but it does showcase a unique perspective in how health professionals were forced into silence and how other countries are outdoing the US in moving forward from this pandemic. Hopefully, the ideas of this film and actions from other countries won’t just be tossed aside like the Obama Administration’s pandemic playbook likely was, and rather inspires viewers to think more about taking action and provide stepping stones that we can take in the coming months to progress past this pandemic. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, and this film shows why.