Around the world, as we all deal with various states of lockdown and isolation, along comes Spaceship Earth, a documentary on the journey of a team who wanted to create a self-sustaining system, what they called biosphere 2, as a possible means of living outside the earth and in space. Eight individuals (experts in various fields) were chosen to spend two years in the space without any intervention from the outside world (living in isolation essentially), and the documentary charts the events that got us to the experiment, as well what was going on during and after.
The surprising thing to learn is that biosphere 2 was a brainchild of individuals living on a commune, which the media painted as some kind of cult. The group, with leader John Allen, doesn’t come across as a cult, portrayed in Wolf’s film as a group of people who wanted to create change, certainly worthy of our admiration. All my life I have lived in a box, living out a stable and expected life. In Spaceship Earth, we have this group of individuals setting about to do amazing things, like building a hotel together, or a ship. They then travelled the world in said ship, leaving me with the distinct feeling of awe and admiration – these were people who were always learning, always pushing themselves, leading extraordinary lives.
While they were fascinated with science and ecology, they were also committed theatre folk, and we spend quite a bit of the documentary watching snippets of these theatrical moments. Director Matt Wolf’s focus on the before moments of the experiment make sense, and it also helps us to understand the controversy and sensationalism that would later plague the project, but I felt that the film should have focused more on the experiment itself, which for me was the most interesting part of the documentary.
There is a curiosity as to how they would handle the system, and whether they would be successful in living this isolated life for two years. They managed along for a while, until outside help was needed, and then the project struggled with maintaining transparency with the public. Every time there was a new revelation about biosphere 2, the media took it to be a deception, with John Allen coming across as someone creating an elaborate play as opposed to helming a project meant to contribute meaningfully to science – one scientist even called it ecological entertainment.
Then the two years was over, and it was time for the eight individuals to emerge. After a project of that scale and magnitude, you would expect some follow-up, a look at the data and thinking about what can be done to enhance and modify the system, and to try again. But alas, short term profit became a priority, with the purpose and vision for biosphere 2 disappearing into a void of non-existence. Spaceship Earth wants to remind us that it did exist, and it was the outcome of a group of individuals who dared to dream, who wanted to make an impact on the world and in some small way, make it a better place to live in.
Who knows what we could have accomplished or discovered if the biosphere project was allowed to run its course. Wolf’s Spaceship Earth allows us the opportunity to bear witness to this feat of human daring, with the viewers given a nudge to think about our own visions and imaginings for the society we live in, encouraging us to take the leaps we need to – after all, collective change begins with the individual.
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Matt Wolf creates an alluring space for you to fall into with Spaceship Earth, charting the ups and downs of the biosphere 2 experiment, weaving a compelling tale that excels more in the second half of the film.
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