‘Yikes, how deep do you want to go?’ replies Tony Fauci when asked about his feelings re the chaotic 2020 media briefings he gave with Donald Trump. Of course, Trump never shuts up about Fauci to this day, but the doctor is a far more discreet figure, and part of the appeal of this film is figuring out exactly where Fauci’s remarkable sense of diplomacy comes from. John Hoffman and Janet Tobias’s sober documentary study for National Geographic has a certain ‘ripped from the headlines’ quality; we’re likely in the grip of a worldwide pandemic for years to come, and Fauci is still the MVP for those hoping to stop the virus in its tracks.
‘I have become a symbol for something that isn’t really me,’ Fauci reflects on a nightmare process that has made the humble doctor ‘an enemy and a rockstar’ at the same time. An non-political figure who has served Republican and Democrat presidents alike, Fauci seems to have been taken aback by the irony of reporting to an inarticulate boss with no grasp of science, morality, politics or public service. For a man like Fauci, public service is everything, and Hoffman’s documentary makes a good job of explaining what that choice means, from the personal sacrifice of working away from his beloved family, to public vilification by the angry pressure-groups he faced when searching for common ground on AIDS vaccines. Hoffman’s film constantly circles back to the 80’s and what Fauci learned from his experience as one of the ‘three musketeers of HIV’; deflating prejudice and finding common ground was a Fauci specialism until he encountered someone who specifically didn’t want to do either of these things.
‘To think that you can take care of yourself without taking care of the world is folly’ Fauci concludes, and he’s got a point; following on from the era of disaster capitalism, there’s an on-going battle to be fought against these who seek to exploit public health issues for political or financial gain. Critics describe Fauci as ‘consistently wrong’ but those following the issues on a day-by-day basis will know he’s been consistently accurate to whatever the science told us at the time. It’s easy to be consistent when you have no fidelity to facts, and the reason that Fauci has found himself the object of unsolicited hero-worship is that, as Orwell predicted, ‘speaking the truth in times of universal deceit is a revolutionary act.’ Number-crunchers will long debate the number of Americans who died as a result of the deliberate politicisation of the virus; Hoffman and Tobias’s thoughtful documentary records that Fauci fought for every soul who saw their natural desire to protect themselves and their families become a unwanted shibboleth.
Fauci is in UK cinemas from Sept 17th 2021. Thanks to Dogwoof for advanced access.