The coronavirus pandemic has been a confusing and turbulent time for the entire world – even now, countries are still facing the possibility of further lockdowns and increased virus transmission. ‘Death Can’t Take Me is an incredibly topical and timely look at how the virus affected bodybuilder Simon Fan and put him into a coma for over two weeks. Seeing this incredibly muscular and health-conscious man hooked up to ventilators over the course of the documentary is a sobering experience. Right from the beginning, a beautiful sequence of Simon floating through dark water in a hospital gown sets the tone for his unexpected journey to the brink of death.


The resilience required for bodybuilding is explored in the beginning of the documentary. Simon’s fellow bodybuilders talk about how “normal people” generally can’t handle the intensity of bodybuilding. The ability to push your body to the limits is something that only a few can tap into. This portrait of bodybuilding as an intense and oftentimes painful experience parallels the struggles Simon went through facing COVID-19. We know that he is not a man who gives up and that he is a man who pushes himself regularly, but even then, the illness pushes him to the edge. At one point, a doctor mentions that likely the only reason Simon survived was due to his body mass. This is a chilling revelation – Simon is obviously much more fit and muscular than the average person, and the fact that even a man like him can be rendered so helpless means that the threat of COVID-19 is very, very real.


The documentary doesn’t just explore the physical toll coronavirus had on Simon – it also explores the way it drained him mentally. Simon details the vivid nightmares he had while in the hospital and the ways that being in a coma blurred the lines between reality and fiction. This is a facet of COVID-19 that hasn’t been explored as much – we hear a lot about people being hooked up to ventilators and struggling to breathe in the news, but insight into the mind of a comatose patient is rare.


Simon’s wife and friends detail how harrowing it was to see their loved one, who has always been at the peak of health, stuck in a hospital bed. Because of social distancing requirements, none of them could actually visit Simon. They were resigned to receiving text updates regarding their friends’ health, and the updates generally weren’t encouraging. During his hospitalization, his chances were 50/50 at best. His wife’s account of struggling alone while trying to keep positive are illuminating and really highlight just how emotionally isolating the pandemic is.


In addition to exploring how COVID-19 affected Simon and his family, the documentary also explores how the pandemic affected the fitness industry as a whole. Bodybuilding and fitness in general is rooted in competition and camaraderie, but the pandemic stripped those elements away. For those who fiercely dedicate themselves to things like weightlifting and extreme fitness, the closure of gyms during the early stages of the pandemic forced them to change their lifestyle in ways they never expected. It’s an interesting exploration of how coronavirus affected this subculture of people.


‘Death Can’t Take Me’ isn’t all depressing accounts of failing health and loneliness, though. Much of the beginning of the documentary actually focuses on the rise of Simon’s early career. It’s charming to watch Simon revisit his old gym hangouts, most of which have been closed down. And, of course, the core of the story here is defiance and determination – despite the odds, Simon pushed on. As a result, his whole outlook on life changes for the better. The ending of the documentary features plenty of hopeful messages reminding viewers that their health and their happiness is important. “Make the most of every day…and one last thing, I’ll see you Saturday for legs.” Even in a situation as dire as Simon’s, the documentary takes the time to look on the bright side, which is incredibly poignant and important during this time of global uncertainty.