Title: Totally Under Control
Describe This Movie Using One Masque of the Red Death Quote:
POE: The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think.
Brief Plot Synopsis: 220,011 U.S. deaths, as of October 12, 2020.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4 N95 respirators out of 5.
Tagline: "This October, the truth will make you sick."
Better Tagline: "It's the pandemic, stupid."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The first cases of COVID-19 in the United States and South Korea were confirmed on the same day in January. And that's where the similarities end.
"Critical" Analysis: You know all the quotes. In April, COVID-19 was going to "magically go away," then it was "a hoax," and that the Administration had the outbreak "totally under control." As preposterous as such claims sounded at the time, Totally Under Control, the new movie from Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, and Suzanne Hillinger condenses them and sets Donald Trump's inaction in contrast to the aggressive measures taken by the government of South Korea to contain the virus.
Filmed remotely — using a specially designed "COVID cam" for this production — or by a crew separated from their subjects by a shower curtain, Totally Under Control was also shot in secret, with Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief) and his co-directors interviewing medical professionals, government officials, and journalists. Unsurprisingly, the resulting assessments of Trump's actions are universally negative.
We're introduced to the main perpetrators: Trump (whose incompetence is already well-documented);
Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, who downplayed the risks of a pandemic in January; HHS Secretary Alex Azar, a former Big Pharma exec and free market evangelist who reassured Trump even as he was updating him; and Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control, whose early COVID test kits malfunctioned, leading to critical response delays.
At the same time, South Korea learned the lessons of the 2015 MERS outbreak, fast-tracking the process by which tests are developed. This meant that within weeks of the first cases, thanks to testing and contact tracing, they were able to mostly contain the virus (minus some karaoke-linked resurgences).
In contrast ... well, let's just say that having the President of the United States refer to the agencies responsible for pandemic response as the "Deep State" is a mite counterproductive when a virus is ravaging your country. Where South Korea's government gave the reins to public health professionals, an approach proven to have worked in previous outbreaks, the United States' response team contained a whopping two doctors: Redfield and Anthony Fauci, whose advice and counsel has consistently been countermanded and/or ignored by Trump.
Gibney and company also highlight the pandemic's impact on communities of color, who are disproportionately represented in public-facing and health care provider fields. These are, of course, the groups impacted by the Administrations' mishandling of PPE production and distribution.
Totally Under Control is a damning indictment of Trump's response that is also depressing in its familiarity. In that sense, Gibney's decision to release the film prior to the election is understandable. It's unlikely to sway most people, but focusing on the timeline of Trump's bungling and comparing his Administration's response to South Korea's makes describing it as anything but disastrous next to impossible.
Sci-fi author Isaac Asimov commented all the way back in 1980 about the "cult of ignorance" in the United States, and while many Americans have embodied the concept of "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge," few have done so with such tragic consequences as Donald Trump.
Totally Under Control is streaming now.
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