Totally Under Control (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): Totally out of control

Documentary film “Totally Under Control” is alternatively sobering and infuriating for several good reasons. While it is disturbing to see the exponential spread of COVID-19 virus in US during last year, it is also exasperating to watch how this serious national health crisis has been exacerbated by President Donald J. Trump and his incompetent government, and, as far as I can see from the documentary, they nearly did everything wrong in their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which leads to the death of more than 350,000 Americans at this point.

In early 2020, Alex Gibney, who has been mainly known for several acclaimed documentaries including “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (2005) and “Taxi to the Dark Side” (2007), decided to make this documentary after his two friends got diagnosed with COVID-19 (One of them sadly died in the end, by the way), and he and his co-directors/co-producers Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger had to take considerable safety measures as shown at the beginning of the documentary. Once a special kit prepared by cinematographer Ben Bloodwell was sent to the interviewees in the documentary, the interviewees had a camera and a microphone connected to the Internet, and then they could have an interview with Gibney via online video communication.

Gibney interviewed a number of different experts and government officials including Dr. Rick Bright and Dr. Alex Greninger, and they all tell us how the US government and President Trump ignored the clear signs of danger at the beginning of 2020. Around that time, China was already being shaken by the ever-increasing scale of its COVID-19 outbreak, and many American experts in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had clearly discerned that the US government had to do anything for preventing COVID-19 from spreading into US, but President Trump and his government did not take their warnings that seriously just because nothing seemed to be alarming to them at that time. In the middle of January 2020, the first case of COVID-19 in US was reported, and, considering that COVID-19 virus is highly infectious, this suggested that there would be more cases to be popped up here and there, but President Trump did not listen at all while mostly occupied with maintaining status quo for his re-election.

Around February 2020, the situation became quite more alarming than before, but President Trump and his administration did not do that much while keeping assuring to the media and the public that everything was “totally under control”. Although his government did set up a special task force which included several high-ranking government officials ranging from U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, but most of them did not have much experience in handling national outbreaks from the beginning, and it also later turned out the federal protocol for national outbreak had already been discarded just because it was made during the Barack Obama presidency.

As a consequence, the COVID-19 outbreak in US became far worse than expected during next several months. In last March, I decided to cancel my trip to US for attending the 2020 Ebertfest because the number of COVID-19 infection cases rose day by day in South Korea, but then, what do you know, the number of COVID-19 infection cases in US was rapidly increased during next several months, and I must confess that it felt morbidly ironic to me when the 2020 Ebertfest was canceled along with many other notable film festivals in US due to the following lockdown all over the country.

For stopping the COVID-19 outbreak from being spread more, more COVID-19 test kits and more personal protection equpiments (PPE) such as N95 mask should be supplied as soon as possible, but, unfortunately, the Trump administration made several catastrophic errors on these urgent matters. For example, it is very important to detect and then contain the infected as quickly as possible, but there was serious delay in supplying and distributing COVID-19 test kits, and the Trump administration also bungled a lot in case of the wide distribution of PPE products. President Trump and his government officials simply thought that it would be taken care of by free market mechanism without any intervention from them, but, not so surprisingly, this only led to the considerable price increase of PPE products to the frustration of many state governors, who all desperately needed PPE products as well as COVID-19 test kits.

And President Trump was still occupied with how he could win in the upcoming US Presidential election despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As many of you remember well, he irresponsibly spread a false claim about a certain medicine in public, and he and his government adamantly tried to have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do clinical tests on this medicine even though there is no reliable scientific evidence supporting its ability to cure COVID-19. In addition, he grossly underestimated the COVID-19 pandemic many times in front of his deplorable supporters who usually believe whatever he says, and it goes without saying that this led to more cases of infection in US.

Throughout the documentary, the disastrous situation in US is often compared to how briskly and efficiently the COVID-19 outbreak has been handled in South Korea. Right from when the first case of COVID-19 infection was reported, my government became quite ready to get things under control thanks to the existing government protocol on national outbreak, which was prepared shortly after the MERS outbreak in 2015. Once it turned out that the situation was much more serious than expected, the South Korean government gave full support to the production and distribution of COVID-19 test kits and PPE products, and I and other South Korean citizens willingly followed the instructions from our government, though our safety has been currently damaged by those despicable right-wing Christians who willfully disregard the government instructions just for power and money.

Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic is still continuing all around the world even at this point, “Totally Under Control”, which was incidentally released in US shortly after President Trump got himself infected in last October, is rather reserved about our uncertain future, but that is understandable in my humble opinion. To be frank with you, I am still not sure about when the situation is finally over, but things will never be same for us in the end, and we will surely remember and talk about this pandemic for many years.

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