‘The First Wave’ Review: How to Fight a Virus

The documentary tracks the first four months of the novel coronavirus in March 2020, as it overwhelms works at a hospital in Queens.

The documentary “The First Wave,” an intimate portrait of the first four months of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, goes inside the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, as doctors, nurses and patients attempt to fight a surge that threatens to overwhelm the hospital’s capacity.

The director Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land,” “A Private War”) prefers a fly-on-the-wall style as he observes the scenes in the hospital. It’s clear he was granted a remarkable degree of access to make this documentary. The camera watches from the bedside of flat-lining patients as their doctors try to resuscitate them.Heineman pans close to intubated faces, and the audience sees the desperation of patients who try until their last breaths to expel fluid from their lungs.

In the scenes that follow, the film’s central figure, Dr. Nathalie Dougé, is overwhelmed by a new disease that doesn’t follow familiar patterns. It’s agonizing to witness the degree of suffering that this movie documents, all the more so because the pandemic is still ongoing.

Heineman doesn’t include talking heads to contextualize the images that are presented, preferring to allow doctors and nurses to explain the chaos surrounding them. The deliberate lack of an external perspective adds to the crushing atmosphere at the hospital. This is not a comprehensive portrait of diagnostics, treatment plans or even the political circumstances that produced such a deadly first surge. But the film succeeds in presenting an on-the-ground view of what it felt like to be inside a hospital in the spring of 2020. It was harrowing, death was everywhere and there was no end in sight.

The First Wave
Rated R for graphic images, medical gore and language. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.

Source: Movies -


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