TOTAL TRUST – A Review by Jenn Rohm
I have made jokes for years about “Big Brother” watching and seeing the ads that pop up on social media matching conversations I have had give me chills. Watching episodes of Black Mirror adds to my fear. Specifically, three episodes: 2016 Nosedive about ratings by others setting your social standing and opportunities, 2017 Arkangel for parents to see and hear everything their child is exposed to, and 2023 Joan is Awful where a woman’s life is played out via a TV show the world is watching.
Director Jialing Zhang is bringing to light real-world applications of using technology and others to monitor the everyday life of the Chinese. Her documentary Total Truth gives insight into this surveillance culture. A technology conference shows the latest in technology for not only facial recognition but also predicting emotional state. Of course, it is being marketed as giving companies a heads-up on employees being stressed or teachers that a student shows signs of depression.
Areas of China have been broken into zones with other citizens monitoring and reporting on one another. They watch for cars left unlocked or windows left open. They also report “offenses” by one another. This behavior is rewarded with points toward social standing and the ability to trade in for prizes. This is everyday life and younger generations do not know any difference.
There is a focus on three families. In January 2020 Chang Weiping, a human rights lawyer was arrested and charged with “subversion of state power”. This term allows police and courts to accomplish what they want without clearly defined rules and laws in place. His wife Chen Zijuan and their son Tutu have not seen him since and are not being given access to him.
Covering his case is one of his former clients Sophia Huang Xueqin. She wrote about the sexual harassment of students in university which led to police interest in her. When she discovered cameras outside her apartment, she began reading Orwell’s 1984 out loud and singing music from Les Miserables.
Wang Quanzhang was arrested in 2015 with over 300 other human rights lawyers and activists. He has been reunited with his wife Li Wenzu and their son Quanquan. To prevent Wang from speaking at Human Rights Day, others from the community set up camping chairs outside their apartment preventing them from leaving.
Zhang herself can no longer return to China after co-directing the prize-winning film One Child Nation. For this project, she had to direct remotely using encrypted emails that vanished after so many hours. When watching the film credits, note many of the crew are listed as anonymous to protect themselves. This is real life for many people, and I appreciate every person who participated in making the film. The risks they have taken to bring this to light are high. If you have the opportunity to see this film, I recommend doing so.
Director: Jialing Zhang
MPAA Rating: not rated
Selig Rating: 3.5 stars
Runtime: 1h 37m
Release Date: December 8, 2023
Movie Site: Total Trust website
Trailer: Total Trust Trailer
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie/show, well worth the time and price.
4 Stars – Good movie/show
3 Stars – OK movie/show
2 Stars – Well there was nothing else…
1 Star – Total waste of time.