Set in an apocalyptic future, Biosphere stars two lifelong friends, Ray (Sterling K. Brown, Black Panther) and Billy (Mark Duplass, Safety Not Guaranteed), who have witnessed the end of civilization and now co-exist in a self-sufficient biosphere. As they are both biologically male, Ray and Billy being the sole survivors would indicate the inevitable extinction of the human race. But is it that simple or is an unforeseen evolutionary change coming? Ray and Billy’s relationship sees its ups and downs as they debate their differing perspectives, reflect on their lives before the incident, and plan for what is to come.
As one might expect from a two-character story, Ray and Billy have very glaring differences. Ray is the overachieving intellectual, having built the biosphere they are surviving in himself. Not only is he highly educated in biochemistry, but he served as an adviser to Billy’s presidency. What to some may be the most perplexing element of the story is that Billy was ever the President of anything, let alone the United States. Though charming, he appears to lack any leadership skills or authoritative presence, mostly deferring to Ray’s expertise. His character is most likely a satire of many leaders in real life, if not the entire idea that a leader knows any more than the average person. Billy serves as the voice of the audience, specifically those not well-versed in science or evolution, and reacts just as they would to hearing the volume of information that Ray throws out. Ultimately, Billy becomes a sympathetic character, as having a highly intelligent and accomplished friend could conjure up feelings of insecurity.
Biosphere being a post-apocalyptic buddy comedy allows for it to present many interesting questions. One such question is where to turn to after an argument? In many post-apocalyptic films, there is one survivor who speaks to inanimate objects for a sense of socialization. However, Ray and Billy each have someone to talk to, but not anyone to moderate once they have verbal disagreements. One solution is the fish that they are growing (and eventually eating) in the biosphere’s pond. Ray talks to them for a reprieve multiple times after getting into it with his best friend. Though not exactly like Wilson in Cast Away or the mannequins in I Am Legend, we see that even with the presence of a human companion, situations dictate turning to other beings for conflict resolution.
The movie’s main question pondered over the course of 106 minutes is “could an organism’s biological makeup change out of necessity in order to continue its species?” On this topic, Ray and Billy both must face changes propelling them to act in ways they never thought they would have to in a civilized society. What pulls the viewer into the story is that due to their lifelong friendship and confinement to a single space, the characters have candid conversations about who they are, how they have been raised, and how both factors act as mental roadblocks to evolution that they must figure out a way around.
Writer/director Mel Eslyn’s film differs from many others in its genre. In most films with two friends struggling to survive, they are stranded in the wilderness or space, still with some faint hope of rescue. In many post-apocalyptic movies, there is either a sole survivor still able to traverse the wasteland for resources or many groups of survivors that form their own cliques (i.e. Mad Max). Having two friends co-existing in a biosphere avoids the violence and tribalism that we often see from movies in this category. Instead, it goes the academic and largely comedic route.
Pressed for a comparison, Biosphere bears some resemblance to the Oscar-nominated 2017 film The Shape of Water. In Guillermo del Toro’s critically acclaimed flick, a lonely janitor forms a relationship with an amphibious creature being held captive. Both films raise questions about how human beings adapt in the face of loneliness, desperation and, in the case of Biosphere, possible extinction.