Biosphere Shows That This is How the World Ends, Not With a Bang but With Two Dudes Playing Mario Kart

It almost seems unfair to discuss Mel Eslyn’s brilliant Biopshere. Star and co-writer Mark Duplass has been urging people to go in completely blind to the film, and frankly this is the best way to experience it. Even the briefest discussion of themes could be seen as spoilers for a work that is genuinely surprising in the best possible manner. All that will be said before a picture of a Clownfish as “beware those who pass the clownfish for spoilers there will be,” is that Biosphere is a brilliant comedy and sharp-eyed satire about masculinity, gender, toxic bromances, and the end of the world as we know it.

Stirling K. Brown and Mark Duplass star as Ray and Billy. They’re the last men left alive on Earth after a planetary wide apocalypse triggered by Billy in his role as the POTUS wiped out the atmosphere. For years Ray and Billy have been living in a biosphere built by Ray who has been best friends with Billy since childhood. More than best friends, Ray and Billy have a co-dependent relationship that is defined by Ray being the smart one Billy being the ‘face of the operation’ – with Ray responsible for getting Billy into office as a Republican president.

Something happened, although Eslyn remains vague on exactly what, but it seems Billy had a tantrum of a kind and blip went humanity (not a stretch if we look at American politics, especially the Trump era). Both men knew it was a possibility and both men have to take responsibility for it, but instead they daily run around the biosphere making jokes about who is the most important Mario Brother – Mario or Luigi and complain that one didn’t teach the other how to “warp” in the game.

Eslyn soon changes up the situation when one of the fish in their vital pond keeping the biosphere liveable dies. Sam, Diane, and Woody (the fish) have been providing the self-replicating food source that keeps the biosphere going and when one dies (the female) the likelihood of Ray and Billy surviving is crushed; that is, until “Nature finds a way.”

Biosphere is a two hander that is kept afloat by Brown and Duplass’ remarkable chemistry with each other, both in opposition and something more intimate. Duplass is certainly the “giant man baby” who refuses to face anything he doesn’t like. Brown is the mostly calm but secretly resentful man who realises his biggest mistake might have been allowing Billy anywhere near power – something he seems to have been born to, because it is unlikely a man as dull-witted as Billy could have made it into college without privileged parental backing.

There are neat little pointers as to what will happen in Biosphere such as Billy complaining that he may have been misreading Manuel Puig’s ‘The Kiss of the Spider Woman’ and a general pan around the biosphere itself which gives enough of an idea of who these men were pre-catastrophe and perhaps who they will become. When the film starts it is Ray who is a beacon of hope for their survival using a magic trick that they saw when they were children about an eight-pound bowling ball materialising out of nowhere at his birthday party. Billy, who refuses to even countenance he was at the party is the more cynical and disinterested in Ray’s scientific theories about how “Nature is full of historical contingencies when it comes to the survival of the species.” During a discussion where Ray is trying to explain how one of the fish is changing gender Billy is too busy drawing a penis on a picture of a zebra to pay attention.

There are significant changes inside the biosphere (which spoiling serves no-one) that point to Eslyn and Duplass’ takedown of masculinity and the way it is constructed, the privilege of men, gender essentialism, and how two generally awful people slowly get redeemed when it is too late for the world (or is it?).

Biosphere is a marvellously inventive and funny film with a core of absolute sincerity about the tenuous state of the planet. It’s shot efficiently and staged perfectly with the biosphere itself being a third character. Brown and Duplass are magnificent as the “no-homo” bros who find that there is something deeper than the attitudes they have been socialised into – the attitudes that ended the world. There is so much to say about Biosphere, and it can be expected that after seeing the film people will be discussing just how wise and spot on it is. Until then, keeping “mum” is probably for the best.

Director: Mel Eslyn

Cast: Sterling K. Brown, Mark Duplass

Writers: Mel Eslyn, Mark Duplass

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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