Release Date: 23/10/2020

Cast: Alex Azar, Charlie Baker, Scott Becker, Taison Bell, Deborah Birx, John Bolton, Michael Bowen, Rick Bright

Director: Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger

Rating: 4/5 (4 out of 5 Stars)


Totally Under Control is a documentary about the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic by the US federal government under the leadership of Donald Trump. The film is also about how it cost their citizen dearly in lives lost and dreams shattered. The documentary derives its titles from a term that Donald Trump frequently used to emphasise how well his administration was dealing with the pandemic and how people didn’t have to bother about it. He went to the extent of saying “one day the pandemic will disappear miraculously.” When I heard those words come out of the mouth of the president of the USA, I instantaneously felt better about how the pandemic was being dealt with here in my country. After watching this documentary, I can safely say that those ill-advised words coming out of Trump’s mouth were merely the tip of the iceberg of the disaster that Trump’s dealing with the pandemic was.

The documentary starts by introducing a camera rig that the makers built to conduct interviews at the time of the pandemic and ensure the safety of the interviewees. This immediately showed me the kind of respect that the filmmakers had for the worsening situation and made me immediately start listening with more seriousness to whatever they had to say. The next best thing that the makers did was to have in their interviewees a host of people who were not only subject matter experts but were at the forefront of dealing with the pandemic in the USA. Once the credibility of the people involved in the documentary was ascertained, the focus now shifted to the story that they were trying to tell.

Using these interviews, Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger trace back and recreate the entire story of how the pandemic began in the USA and how at every stage of it, it was mismanaged due to the political agenda and influence of the federal government that ultimately led to the loss of unaccountable human lives. The facts mentioned in these interviews are backed by official statements that the federal government issued and it leaves no room to raise questions on the authenticity of what the authorities are being accused of and the reliability of it.

The biggest shock of the documentary comes in the very last scene of it wherein we learn, like in a Hollywood thriller that, Donald Trump was aware of the seriousness of the virus and its deadly nature well before the first case of the coronavirus was reported in the US. What could then have been the reason for the man to make people believe that all was good and that they could continue with their lives as usual?

Snap from Totally Under Control

That question is answered within the first fifteen minutes of the film when the makers inform us through a voiceover that Trump’s hope of re-election was heavily dependent on the upsurge of the economy and how much money and how many jobs he could put in the hands of the people of America. Thus the idea of lockdown or an economic slowdown because of the scientific precautionary measures felt like a death sentence to his reelection hopes. Trump was desperate enough to incite violence if it meant keeping the people out on the streets and the wheels of the economy turning.

When I think of the USA, I always presume it to be a nation of resourceful, strong, and intelligent individuals. Totally Under Control, unequivocally proves that none of those aspects defined how the country, its government, and its people treated the COVID-19 situation. The country ran into a shortage of N-95 masks. Health workers were forced to use masks that were 10 years past their expiry date. There were instances when the strap of the masks came undone in situations when the health workers were close to patients and were exposed to the virus. The film explains through reliable sources how the US almost intentionally killed off its mask manufacturing industry and was now dependent on China for the supply.

In a bizarre turn of events, an individual who had made a YouTube video about how a concoction of drugs, one of which was Hydroxychloroquine was contacted by the chief of FDA, given permission for use, and was propagated by the President himself as a miracle cure for COVID-19. The audience also bears witness to the fact that by the time, the president and his cronies realised the importance of the lockdown and putting the restriction in place, it was already too late. The USA soon became one of the worst-hit countries by the virus and is still reeling under the threat of it. The film shows how even after all that, a show of disrespect to the safety standards and precautions by the individuals was recognised as a mark of solidarity with him by the president.

The film ends by informing us that by the time it was completed, the President himself tested positive for COVID-19. After getting the best medical treatment in the world, when he finally returned to White House, his daughter tweeted a video of his helicopter landing on the lawn of the White House, him getting down from it and ripping off his mask as a symbolic middle finger to the disease and all who are following the protocol. He did all this with a heroic score playing in the background.

Totally Under Control is an extremely important film at this juncture. It shows how not being smart and not paying heed to scientific advice can mean doom to even the greatest superpower in the world. The film reiterates that it is important to give the virus its due respect and do the bare minimum that is required to keep oneself safe and away from its grasp. I see people making the same mistake in Assam these days. Scores of people are often seen going berserk at the very sight of Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma out on an election campaign. They shun all inhibitions and can be seen jostling for a chance to wave at their beloved minister. The question that I ask myself when I see such sights is, is it worth it?

The virus is beginning to raise its ugly head again in the state and it’s only a matter of time before lives are lost and dreams are shattered. Please be smart and maintain the social distancing norms. Follow the advice of the experts. This is not the time to drop guard. Even with the availability of a vaccine, we have a long and arduous fight ahead of us before the virus is eradicated. To fight that war, we need to be alive. Don’t be like Trump. Be smarter and stay safe.

Also read: Asuran: Dhanush’s National-award winning movie not for faint of heart

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