“In the Same Breath” is a timely documentary that gives an insider look at the origins of the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19. Filmmaker Nanfu Wang criticizes the missteps officials took in the early stages of the pandemic and the government propaganda machines in China and the United States. Wang began to archive the forbidden social media posts and videos that were coming from people living in the epicenter of Wuhan, saving as many as she could. She includes much of this footage in the documentary, and it gives an insider glimpse into what it was really like living under a mandated quarantine.
The most interesting parts of the film come from the firsthand accounts from Chinese citizens, including secretly filmed footage from inside the country’s hospitals. There are so many sad stories of anonymous families who couldn’t get the life saving medical care they so desperately needed, and those who dared to blow the whistle on the lies (including the leadership’s propaganda machine that included underestimating the number of COVID-related deaths by the tens of thousands, if not more, and leaving people to literally die in the middle of the street) were rounded up and arrested, or even “disappeared.”
Wang delivers a scathing indictment of the government’s response to the pandemic, and she doesn’t shy away from the parallels between President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump, two leaders who tried to hide the severity of the outbreak in their respective countries. Both men willfully added to the confusion by purposely spreading disinformation, ruling with gross incompetence, and likely costing hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.
The documentary touches on the American phenomenon of widespread ignorance, especially among the misinformed anti-maskers. Wang includes footage of misguided protests across the U.S., but doesn’t blame the people who believe COVID is a hoax. She feels pity towards them, attributing their behavior to the spread of falsehoods and fear that comes from the people we are all supposed to trust the most.
The most devastating segment of the film explores the lingering emotional trauma of healthcare workers, those on the front lines who have to witness and process being around so much death and grief. Most of the nurses Wang interviews can’t even get through their interview without bursting into tears. It’s heartbreaking how much these men and women have given to provide for the welfare of the public.
“In the Same Breath” is a well made and interesting study about something that has affected people around the globe. In hindsight, it’s easier to see disturbing patterns of coordinated disinformation campaigns, but it’s the outright lies that were told to protect the powerful that really hurt the rest of the world’s population.