- Movie Rating -

How to Survive a Pandemic (2022)

| March 29, 2022

As a frequent visitor to the trough of the documentary format, I knew instinctively as the pandemic was ringing alarm bells early in 2020, that this would be the landscape of the genre for the next few years, maybe decades.  There is no end to the stream of documentaries dealing with this scourge but what has been interesting is that they have usually come in two flavors; the desperate and sometimes gut-wrenching portraits of how COVID-19 spread (72 Days, Coronation and The First Wave) and the finger-pointing at the Trump Administration’s misguided and nonsensical approach to the problem (Totally Under Control, Fauci and In the Same Breath).

David France’s How to Survive a Pandemic resides somewhere in the middle.  Yes, there is gut-wrenching footage of dying COVID patients and the film selects footage that makes Trump look like an ineffectual boob, but for them most part, it sticks to the information.  The film is paced like a thriller as we hear information about the pandemic that spread like wildfire and how the scientific community was pushed to get a vaccine in production as quickly as possible.

Naturally, in order to organize the information effectively, France tries to organize it chronologically.  The film’s first half deals with the speed with which the vaccine had to be created and the second half deals with controversy as the vaccine was rolled out – the public’s distrust and the slow-pace with which it was distributed to poverty-stricken countries.

So naturally, perhaps inevitably, How to Survive a Plague ends up being a lot of “Tell me something that I don’t know.”  If you followed the progress of the pandemic on the news or read about it, little of this information is going to be the least bit surprising.  What is new is the approach.  Since the film is structured chronologically, the thriller element is provided by a frequent counter that tells us how many people had died from the disease at any given moment, which of course clues us in on the wildfire that these scientists were working against. 

But we are also given a perspective.  France was previously the director of the similarly-themed (and much better) How to Survive a Plague about the early days of the AIDS crisis and how groups like ACT Up and TAG were forced to take matters into their own hands when the government turned its back on the problem.  That film had the benefit of hindsight.  How to Survive a Pandemic leaves you with the nervous feeling that this is only the beginning.

And yet, there’s a sense of imbalance here.  Yes, the film is necessarily divided into those two parts but it is largely weighed on the race to get the vaccine made – the final running time of which was eleven months, a historic record.  That’s important, and the film credits Dr. Dan Barouch, the head scientist at Johnson & Johnson but it also short-shrifts the details of what delayed the vaccine and the film fails to cover Omicron variant which, if Mr. France wanted to tell the complete story, really needed to be included here.  The movie ends by making heroes out of the people who rolled out the first vaccine and anyone watching it will immediately feel what is being left out.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Documentary