THE STORY – Director Ido Mizrahy ponders the conflict between our need for connectivity and the urge to explore the unknown. Within the next decade, scientists predict that we will be able to send humans to Mars (and to return them safely). Dr. Al Holland, a senior NASA psychologist, studies the effects of prolonged separation of individuals from Earth. “The Longest Goodbye” offers us an opportunity to witness as Dr. Holland investigates the ways to provide support and coping mechanisms to the red planet-bound explorers in order to prepare them for the actuality of becoming a long-mission astronaut.
THE CAST – Dr. Al Holland
THE TEAM – Ido Mizrahy (Director/Writer) & Nir Sa’ar (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 87 Minutes
It may not be a film directly about the COVID-19 pandemic, but the themes that “The Longest Goodbye” tackles are themes that the audience can easily relate to due to the lockdown rules placed on us. Taking the idea of social isolation and exploring it through the lens of space travel, something that many of us think of as exciting, without even considering the length of time and tight confinements required to exit the Earth’s atmosphere, is a subject matter that is refreshing for a space documentary. It is clear, though, that the subject matter has not been publicly discussed in great detail, as this film tries to cover a range of topics surrounding the idea of social isolation and how to combat it for long missions, such as the planned travel to Mars within the next decade.
This documentary is most successful when it highlights the emotions between the astronauts and their loved ones. There are two primary subject matters at different stages in their space career: Kayla Barron, a new astronaut preparing to help out on the Mars mission, and Cady Coleman, who spent six months on the International Space Station in 2007. From Cady, the viewer is able to get interviews from her as well as her son Jamey, reflecting on the time that she was away. This is paired with footage of Cady video-calling her son on the ISS, effectively showing the mood swings that Jamey experienced due to missing his mother during her mission. Additionally, Kayla takes footage on the ISS for “The Longest Goodbye,” capturing some gorgeous shots from space and the mundane moments, whether sleeping or brushing her teeth. When an incident occurs on the ISS and is hit by debris, the audience sees her husband’s reaction to the news report on it, highlighting the need for strong communication between astronauts and their loved ones at a long distance. But those are not the only stories we hear about in the documentary, as interviewees tell director Ido Mizrahy of some of the things they have done at NASA to help keep loved ones connected and happy. One story is about a couple who had a marriage planned during a space mission and still successfully married despite the distance, showing the love that these families have despite the job titles and long distance between them. Clips such as this make the first half an engrossing documentary worth watching.
Unfortunately, the second half steps back from the personal experiences from the first half. Instead, it focuses on future solutions for the upcoming Mars mission, which is reported to be a two-and-a-half-year mission if successful. This documentary covers the 2010 Copiapó mining accent, in which 33 miners were trapped in Chile. While this is a very emotional incident that occurred and does link back to NASA and dealing with unplanned isolation, the sequence feels out of place. With other examples used previously that perfectly demonstrated social isolation in space, particularly with Cady Coleman, this, unfortunately, felt unnecessary when the time could have been used to explore our two previously presented subject matters further. Additionally, when the film delves into the ideas of virtual reality in space travel to connect digitally with loved ones, it is presented more factually. And while this is fine, it strips away any emotional connection we have with the astronauts and pushes the idea as if it is a presentation idea for the bosses at NASA rather than a documentary for general audiences.
“The Longest Goodbye” is a fascinating look at the logistical issues around space travel that the general public otherwise may not consider, and there is plenty of heart within the story to care about the subject matter. It is unfortunate that the filmmakers didn’t stick with the structure and focus they had in the first half, as the emotional bond the audience feels between Kayla and her husband almost vanishes by the film’s end. While there is nothing wrong with presenting the hard-hitting facts in a documentary, it can be challenging to care about them if so many ideas are being thrown at a pace that “The Longest Goodbye” presents them. This is a good conversation starter, but it has yet to offer the ultimate solution to show us a pathway to Mars.