During the past five months, three directors secretly created the documentary “Totally Under Control” to “uncover the truth” about COVID-19 in the United States.
The film opens with an ominous voice over saying “2020.” The monologue contrasts the expectations many had for the year with what has ensued — a global pandemic.
Directed by Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger, the film begins in the present, analyzing the evolving responses of scientists and government officials around the world to COVID-19. Viewers are taken through a vivid timeline of the pandemic, starting with the first known positive case of COVID-19 in the U.S. on Jan. 20.
Three minutes in, the narrator asks the core question of the film: “Why did the United States fail to reckon with a danger for which it should have been so well prepared?” With the title “Totally Under Control” taken straight from a quote by President Donald Trump, the film does not shy away from blaming the federal government for the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.
The film also offers answers to other widely held questions. When did the U.S. government become aware of the pandemic? Was the severity of the virus underplayed from the start? Was there a mask shortage at the start of the pandemic?
There is an overwhelming sense of confusion and frustration as the film works to address each point.
Using compelling interviews and evidence, the directors don’t hesitate to push a narrative that heavily criticizes the U.S. government. By compiling potentially overlooked news stories and headlines from the onset of the pandemic, the directors create a stark contrast between how the U.S. and China handled the virus.
Visuals of widespread testing, intense safety protocols and the enforced lockdowns in China evoke a sense of urgency. Ultimately, though, the film doesn’t necessarily address any negative aspects of China’s regulations.
The three directors intertwine viral social media videos and press briefings throughout the film to show reactions to the pandemic from both U.S. political officials and everyday citizens.
Many of the featured clips include the infamous videos of angry customers yelling at employees in Walmart for mandating masks that flooded Twitter feeds. Other footage includes some of Trump’s notorious lines concerning the virus, such as “We’re doing a great job” and “Don’t worry.”
The three directors present a visually captivating critique of the U.S.’ handling of the pandemic. From the first known existence of the virus in the U.S. on Jan. 20 all the way to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis Oct. 2, the film capitalizes on the dystopian plot of the year 2020.