“Totally Under Control” Review


Jigsaw Studios

“Totally Under Control” highlights how the response of the United States to the COVID-19 Pandemic has failed.

Alexis Volkodav, Staff Reporter

Given present circumstances, it may seem unnecessary to make a film looking back on how the coronavirus changed the United States. The film “Totally Under Control” from director, Alex Gibney, and co-directors, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger does just that. It not only illustrates the chaos of 2020 through an unprejudiced point of view, but also provides thought-provoking accounts of unprecedented health crisis events. 

The documentary “Totally Under Control” was released on October 13, 2020.  Put together in a short time, the documentary shows how the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in the past ten months. Alex Gibney wanted the film to be a “report card” on the government’s handling of the pandemic. In a unique way of documenting this story, participants were sent a camera, “the Covid Cam,” so they could be interviewed remotely, keeping safety a priority.

The film provides a timeline of events, starting with the first documented case in Seattle in January 2020. Then it contrasts how South Korea handled Covid-19 differently from the U.S. South Korea’s politicians stayed out of the way of science, were proactive in closing the country down to external threats, and fast-tracked manufacturing of medical supplies along with the approval of key medical treatments.

On the other hand, the film provides insight that in the U.S., Covid-19 became a political football game between a scientific community and politicians. In fact, “Totally Under Control” gets its name from President Trump’s own words—providing examples of the president’s downplay of the virus spread and its effects on people. For example, Trump officials sold most of the U.S.’s protective masks to China in February 2020. Also, the first U.S. coronavirus tests were faulty, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) didn’t address the issue for three more weeks.

“It was as if we were flying blind, and we knew it. And frankly, there was nothing we could do except wait,” Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said in the film.

Although the documentary provides insights from different sources, I feel that Gibney didn’t interview some key participants of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, such as immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. It’s clear those interviewed held political beliefs generally opposing President Trump, and included whistleblowers, government officials, and health-care experts. However, one thing that was done well in this film is its fast-paced, engaging storytelling. 

The clips shown in “Totally Under Control” made me feel that the Trump administration didn’t realize or care about the speed the virus spreads. Rather, the administration was more interested in what personal and political benefits they could gain. Mockingly, the film shows a scientist’s explanation followed by the administration’s remarks to diminish the importance. The quote by President Trump, “We’ve got it totally under control” proved the point. 

The film’s emotion-provoking cinematography intends to strengthen the viewer’s frustration. I certainly felt that way, pausing the film several times to reflect on what I learned.

“Totally Under Control” doesn’t provide a conclusion, but demands action from those in office, holding them accountable. These people, like President Trump, carry responsibility for the American people. The film encourages people to prevent the spread of the virus and to be wary of those in power whose misleadings can cause disastrous consequences.