A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Totally Under Control is Alex Gibney's documentary about the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic and the argued failure of the Trump administration to take the necessary steps to combat it. The film is coolheaded, clear, and straightforward, as well as up-front about the safety measures the filmmakers took to protect their interviewees. The documentary may get dated fairly quickly thanks to the subject matter, but it's essential for the moment in which it arrives. Expect to hear brief use of "motherf----r" and a few uses of "s--t" (or "bulls--t") and "my God." There's also violent news footage of angry people swearing and coughing on other people and upsetting footage from Trump rallies.
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What's the story?
In TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL, documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney covers the U.S. timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, starting with the first case discovered in the United States in Seattle in January 2020. Under safe conditions, using sheets of plastic and special cameras, the filmmakers interview several public health officials, who help uncover the details of just what went wrong, when, and how. But all of it, the film argues, is compounded by the Trump administration, which at every turn refused to take the disease seriously.
Is it any good?
As he has done so effectively many times before, Gibney takes a hard, clear, coolheaded look at government corruption -- and, in this case, shocking ineptitude and negligence, too. Totally Under Control -- the title taken from a misleading statement made by President Donald Trump -- is a fine work of journalism, even going behind the scenes a little to show how the movie itself was made safely during the pandemic. We can see layers of plastic surrounding special cameras, designed so that interviewees can speak, safely and unmasked, directly to the camera -- and to viewers.
Speaking with more than a dozen professionals, Gibney and co-directors Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger piece together a U.S. timeline and explain it with more clarity than most day-to-day news reports have had time for. For example, the CDC's faulty test kits are analyzed more fully, and it turns out that the error could have been easily corrected if the emergency had been taken more seriously. But Totally Under Control also looks at the Trump administration, whose virus task force consisted mainly of people with no expertise on the subject ("loyalty was more important than knowledge") and who consistently downplayed the virus's danger. All in all, while the documentary may get dated very quickly, it serves as an important testament for the moment in which it arrives.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Totally Under Control's violence, seen mostly in the form of news footage. Why do you think some people get so angry at others during the pandemic?
Could any of the public health officials interviewed be considered role models? Why, or why not?
Do you think it was difficult to convince those in charge in the United States that the pandemic was a serious matter? Why, or why not?
What did you learn from the movie that you didn't already know from the news or from your friends and family members?
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