There are many ways that the end of the world might come about, and literature and cinema have only imagined a fraction of them. Rarely does everything simply cease to exist, however, and usually there are at a least a few lone survivors whose new reality makes for watchable drama (or comedy). Biosphere blends those two in its focus on the last two people left alive in one particular place, ignorant of what might be beyond the safety of their domed walls and forced to contend for what surely feels like eternity with just each other.
Billy (Mark Duplass) and Ray (Sterling K. Brown) are best friends whose bond has only gotten closer since they’ve become permanent adult roommates in the biosphere Ray designed to sustain them indefinitely. The specifics of the ecological disaster that caused their predicament aren’t revealed, but Billy’s brief stint as President of the United States is not remembered fondly, especially given the policies he championed that only made what was happening worse. When Billy’s carefully-plotted fishpond delivers them an unexpected surprise, Billy and Ray are forced to contend with surprising circumstances and a new understanding of what they mean to each other.
Biosphere is a film that features just two actors, seen solely in this new present. The absence of any informational flashbacks is a productive choice even if showing earlier events might be interesting, because it forces audiences to assess these two on the merits they are displaying only in this film’s timeline, where they have no one else to interact with and can say whatever they want to each other. The cinematography and production design make it feel like this one large dome really is the whole world, effectively communicating the way in which these two people can travel their entire landscape with just a short circular lap.
This is not the first film made during the COVID-19 pandemic which stars just Duplass and one other performer, and 2021’s Language Lessons, costarring director Natalie Morales, is a far more organically charming delight, though its characters interact over Zoom, not in-person. There is also another project that made its debut at SXSW earlier this year, If You Were the Last, that finds two astronauts contemplating certain death and what comes before it, with similar themes that handles them in an appealingly humorous manner. Biosphere borrows from both and occasionally reaches the same heights.
Duplass and Brown are a strong pair, able to bicker in an entertaining manner and convey years of complicated friendship. Duplass tends to choose roles like this that find him as a fast-talking, flawed individual able to recognize some of his shortcomings but also too aware of his ability to make people like him despite it. Brown, best known recently for his turn as a strong-willed dad, brother, and son in This Is Us, has the chance to loosen up but typically shines most in the scenes that allow him to go from lighthearted to emotional and serious with almost no warning.
Much of the enjoyment of Biosphere comes from a specific plot point that’s better not spoiled, one that certainly provides food for thought while also wandering a bit too close to silly territory. Duplass and Brown handle it well, and this film does know what it wants to be, which is an insightful exploration of how humans behave when their habitat changes drastically, with humor and just the right amount of scientific reasoning behind it. It doesn’t go quite as deep as might perhaps have been satisfying, but it does leave a mark, examining a facet of future possibility not always showcased in this way.
Biosphere opens in theatres and on demand on Friday, July 7th.