‘Biosphere (2023)’ is a new science fiction comedy that surpassed my expectations. In her feature-length directorial debut, Mel Eslyn skilfully achieves a light-hearted approach to bring out several fascinating & thoughtful themes about the world we live in. The film, starring Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass, premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and has just received a wide theatrical and VOD release.
The script written by Eslyn and Duplass is set in the not-too-distant future. It essentially follows two best friends who find themselves to be the last two men on earth. However, delving beyond this official logline spoils so much of its experience. Yes, it is one of the ‘that’ kind of films. So, I suggest you read this explainer only after seeing the film.
Biosphere (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis
What is Mel Eslyn’s Biosphere about?
We meet Ray (Sterling K Brown) and Billy (Mark Duplass) inside a chamber-like structure. These two best friends are reportedly the last two men left on Earth. Ray is still optimistic about the future because of his understanding of science. He implements it in the system of this place to sustain their lives. We get introduced to these goofballs jogging together, discussing the creators of Mario and Luigi. Their fairly light-hearted dialogue gives us insight into their personalities.
Ray & Billy in Biosphere
Ray is more knowledgeable than Billy, whereas Billy prefers leisure. While such characteristics is not a defining factor of their personalities, it certainly yields great banter between them. Ray prefers to read heavy-handed books since a richer understanding of the world gives him satisfaction. Billy, however, prefers ‘easy entertainment.’ Their casual chat about the heavy-themed book directs us to an important survival aspect–males are insufficient to sustain life.
Soon after, Ray notices that a male fish from their pond – Sam just died. So, he and Billy decide to have it cooked for a meal. While Billy gets a bit sentimental that they are eating their companion, Ray stoically notes the logical aspect. – it was going to happen one or the other day. Billy still goes on to say a eulogy for Sam. That’s when we learn that Billy was president for 14 months before the shit hit the fan. After their emotional exchange, they suddenly notice a mole on the fish’s head. Diane, their last female fish, had such a mole, not Sam. So that means Diane has died.
The end of the last female fish means a threat to their survival. So, it makes Ray and Billy sense an existential threat. Ray still says that it will be okay, as he always does. But it does not calm Billy’s nerves. Billy tries to divert the attention from reality while expecting Ray to be honest with him. So, finally, Ray reveals the reality of the threat – the fish will die once the pond ceases to be self-sustaining. The same applies to humans in their ecosystem.
This makes Billy lose hope in having a life at all. So, the next morning, he refuses to continue with the daily jogging ritual. Ray argues with Billy about how they still need to keep a modicum of hope alive.
Later that day, Ray observes some changes in the body of one of their male fishes, Woody. After seeing that, Billy starts feeling uneasy. They initially think it is just regular fever. So, Ray tucks Billy in bed and goes back to reading to learn what is happening to Woody. That night, a green light suddenly appears outside, out of nowhere., which startles him. Billy feels it represents a possibility of other people surviving like them. But Ray has something else in mind.
Sequential Hermaphroditism & Survival
Based on his entire night of study, Ray reveals that Woody is adapting to the new circumstances of a female fish’s absence. Ray calls it a sequential hermaphroditism. As a result of that, Woody’s sex organs transform into female sex organs as a reaction to the threat to survival. Billy gets overjoyed since it means they will continue to have food with the fish’s babies. However, right after, he realizes something distinct about himself.
Billy starts panicking because his penis suddenly disappears. Ray explains that Billy is exhibiting a similar change to Woody. Billy finds it difficult to comprehend. But with the sudden presence of a green light, Ray cannot rule out different possibilities. While unsure how to feel at first, Billy eventually tries to move on with his biological changes. Meanwhile, the green light continues to grow on the outside.
The two friends go on to discuss their masculinities in retrospect. Billy questions why he is the one going through the biological changes. Ray notes Billy’s refusal of reality and his ignorance were also present during his months of Presidency. Ray believes it is the fault of Billy’s ignorance toward the changes from back then. Pissed off by that, Billy locks himself inside his room.
While trying to bring him out, Ray reveals that Billy did not even know he was a registered Democrat. It gives another glimpse into how Billy continued to remain blissfully ignorant until a situation did not affect him personally. The writing hints at similar behavior in not-so-apocalyptic reality.
The Bowling Ball Theory
Their discussion ultimately leads to a bowling ball theory where Ray magically made a ball appear out of nowhere. Ray believes a ‘thud’ represented ‘magic becoming real’, i.e., new possibilities. While still not on board with it, Billy lets go of his resentment and starts accepting the change. Later, they also read a eulogy for Billy’s penis for him to process his difficult emotions. Mel Eslyn’s commendable, sensitive direction at such moments stops them from turning into something crass or vulgar. The humor is present, but it never becomes cheap.
The next morning, Ray wakes up to find the pond filled with fish eggs. While Billy celebrates this moment at the time, he gets shocked, finding that Sam ate some of his own kids. Ray explains why that may happen. Their friendship improves after their honest conversations. Soon after, the two discuss the possibility of having a baby together. Billy pursues this idea, while Ray is not readily accepting of it. His resistance has more to do with his upbringing, where he had a very narrow, rigid definition of being a man.
This dialogue brings a rift between them, and Ray even stops speaking with Billy. He starts theorizing what the green dot represents and makes his bed elsewhere. To make him speak, Billy starts talking with the fish and confesses the truth about his past actions. So eventually, Ray lets go of his outdated learning about manliness.
Billy accepts that he assigned Ray to the task of creating the structure they are in to distract him. He was annoyed by Ray always trying to manage him. That leads them to be more transparent about their emotional struggles with dominance vs submission.
Eventually, Ray accepts Billy’s suggestion of procreation. However, he notes that he is afraid for Billy’s safety afterward. While the two decide to go along with the act, they remain unsure how to initiate it. Eventually, they resort to considering it a task they need to carry out, devoid of emotional involvement. But it eventually leads to an increased amount of mature sensitivity between them.
Hope & The Lack Thereof
While the baby starts growing in Billy’s body, he and Ray discuss several aspects. They have friendly conversations, from deciding what to name their kid to the changes in Billy’s body during pregnancy. Ray soon notes that Billy is but a product of their species and can’t be blamed singularly. If not for him, someone else would have made the same mistake he did. It makes Ray question why the species even deserve another chance.
Biosphere (2023) Movie Ending Explained
After the progress of Billy’s pregnancy, the friends are hit with a sudden calamity. A storm-like condition damages the glasses and even breaks a few of them. So, Ray and Billy wake up in the middle of the night and try to cover up the resulting damage. They make every possible effort to not let it end their lives. After doing tiring work for hours, they finally go to rest. In the morning, they notice a visible change outside. The green has significantly increased in proportion outside the glass.
Billy figures it is the sky opening back up. But, unlike his usual optimism, Ray isn’t so sure if the damage can be fixed. He also starts blaming himself for not doing enough to save it from happening. So, Billy takes the role of the optimist in their relationship and considers other possibilities. He claims that what they witnessed was a result of weather conditions. But Ray can’t help looking logically at their situation and figuring out their remaining time with the available resources.
What is the Bowling Ball theory?
On a lighter note, Billy walks up to Ray and notes how they can share responsibilities. They need not be just Mario or Luigi – they can exchange their roles, depending on time. Billy prefers to look at the green light outside as a possibility of life existing beyond them. Billy notes the bowling ball theory to bring Ray back to his optimistic side. The ball appeared in the room where there was none before. Ray believed in the magic, while Billy refused to do so.
However, now, Billy notes what Ray used to say, ‘Things can happen that we cannot explain.’ He then invites Ray to prove his magic theory. Billy notes something on the notepad while Ray starts shedding tears.
What does the thud in the last moment represent?
In the end, Billy asks Ray to look at the notepad. After this overwhelmingly emotional moment, the screen fades to black, and we hear a thud. This Biosphere (2023) ending hints at the importance of hope for survival, even in dire times and circumstances. Billy and Ray’s situation might give a deja vu to many viewers of the times of quarantine during the Covid outbreak. The thud represents the necessity of hope to persevere in any case.
Biosphere (2023) Movie Themes Analysed:
Humanity & Survival
In the film’s roughly two-hour duration, we encounter a fantastic chamber drama and a survival thriller. Humanity’s survival is discussed throughout the film. The writing often alludes to how hope can help us believe in finding solutions to survive. It also tries to make us more open to different possibilities of life since inexplicable factors have sustained life across centuries.
Masculinity & Manliness
The script examines the themes of masculinity and manliness in a potent manner. In one of his introspective dialogues, Duplass’ character also asks – ‘Did his penis make him a man?’ It brings forth the possibility that there is no single way to ‘be a man.’ Ray’s initial struggle to accept the theory stems from his regressive teachings. But the more they start accepting changes in their bodies and/or relationship, the more they become more genial and understanding.