“Totally Under Control,” the title of the new Alex Gibney now on VOD, is a bad joke. Kind of like nicknaming a tall guy Tiny it’s an ironic, sarcastic comment on President Donald Trump’s repeated denial of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Made in secret over the five months leading up to the U.S. Presidential Election, it features damning interviews with scientists, medical professionals and government insiders.
The opening narration sets the stage, not that anyone alive needs reminding that we are living in very strange times. “2020. Since the 1980s, it’s been a magical year for science fiction writers, the year of predictions about the future, and the ruthless power of technology and humanity would be bound together by a world wide web. Artificial Intelligence would exponentially expand the powers of the human mind. And the world would be dominated and controlled by information based mega corporations without need for government intervention. But all that turned out to be a technocratic illusion when nature set loose a terrible disease that took advantage of the very connectivity we had manufactured.”
The narration goes on to say, “At a moment of crisis the world’s most powerful nation didn’t rise to the occasion it descended into division and chaos,” before asking the million dollar question, “Why did it fail to reckon for a danger for which it should have been so well prepared?”
To answer the question Oscar winner Gibney with co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger invented the “Corona Cam,” an easy and sanitary way to do interviews—this does not look like a Zoom meeting—to interview a variety of experts like whistleblower Dr. Rick Bright who says, “We, the scientists, knew what to do for the pandemic response. The plan was in front of us, but leadership would not do it.”
Add to that recent newsreel footage, investigative reporting and ominous narration and you have a portrait of catastrophic systemic bungling, beginning in January 20, 2020 when the U.S. and South Korea both discovered their first cases of COVID-19, that has left hundreds of thousands dead, many hundreds of thousands more ill with side effects that will linger for years and an economy in tatters.
It’s a haunting collection of facts that would be unbelievable if it wasn’t true. Gibney, Harutyunyan and Hillinger’s aim to expose “a system-wide collapse caused by a profound dereliction of Presidential leadership,” is methodical and urgent, digging behind the headlines to reveal a timeline that should be of concern to everyone reading this or watching the film. It is a difficult watch, not because it isn’t slickly made but because it an infuriating reminder of how we got into this situation.
The movie’s tagline says it all, “The truth will make you sick.”