Despite its opening title card that reads “Once upon a time…” I wouldn’t call ‘Biosphere’ a fairytale. But it’s certainly a story in support of indulging in the fantastical, and maybe even redefining romance. All hiding in a sci-fi dustcover.
‘Biosphere’ is a more layered film than that, even. And humbly so. Director Mel Eslyn and co-writer Mark Duplass open their film with two dudes having a mumblecore debate over Super Mario Bros. They then Trojan Horse in themes of gender, toxic masculinity, and sexuality, willing the last two men on earth to learn lessons about each. So that silly Super Mario conversation (which is accompanied by a healthy dose of playfighting)? It’s actually the first hint at an unspoken breaking of the bro barrier.
That’s the goal here, actually. Break down all those stupid barriers. Of gender, of sexuality, of intimacy, of placing blame. Above all: evolve. In the case of Billy (Duplass) and Ray (Sterling K. Brown), there are many reasons for those lines to be blurred. For starters, they’ve been friends since they were kids. They then, in so many ways, made the world inhabitable together. You see, Billy was President for all of 14 months, with Ray as his Chief Advisor. The outside world is now unlivable, but Billy and Ray are safe and sound in a biodome that Ray built on Billy’s command — so the President could have a soft place to land when shit hit the fan.
They live in as much humble domestic bliss as you could, considering. They have a chore chart, a nice array of classic books, and inside jokes to last them til the end of the world. Brown and Duplass make the relationship feel lived-in, using their easy chemistry to weave in and out of thoughtful conversations and playful banter both. It’s pretty romantic.
What co-writers Duplass and Eslyn are most interested in is whether these guys can evolve. Because whether they’ve considered it or not, these two bums who ended humanity as we knew it, have the opportunity to course its future. This tiny bubble will force them to rethink who they are, not just as straight, cisgender, men, but as a species.
Composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans (‘Ozark,’‘Fear the Walking Dead’) help with creating white space for Billy and Ray to grow. They nix the instruments and opt for voices alone, creating an acapella score that is at once eerily lonely and wholly human, an apt soundscape for the end of the world. Where there’s no one else watching, no one else to define who the duo needs to be.
Without spoiling the bonkers places ‘Biosphere’ takes us, I will say the place Billy and Ray realize a relationship that offers us hope in our ability to evolve as a species. They land in a place that maybe isn’t even label-able. It’s intimate and aspirational, nonetheless, and fit for an unknowable future.
At its most starry-eyed — as in moments referencing a bowling ball and the final scene — the film floats into magical territory, asking us to believe in the wonders of the universe. But as ‘Biosphere’ demonstrates until that point, I’d posit that hope and change are possible without the magic.
‘Biosphere’ is in theaters and video on-demand beginning July 7th.
REVIEW: Fantastical Two-Hander ‘Biosphere’ Offers Hope for an Unknowable Future