Review by Sean Boelman
Outer space always makes for a fascinating documentary subject, but Ido Mizrahy’s The Longest Goodbye focuses less on space itself and more on the people behind it. A breathtaking, moving documentary in more ways than one, there is a good chance this may be the most visually-impressive nonfiction film you see this year.
The movie follows a NASA psychologist studying the effects of human isolation on people so that astronauts can begin to prepare for a long-term mission to Mars. It’s a refreshingly grounded take on something that is still inherently theoretical, giving it a unique perspective that few other documentaries have offered.
The theme is obviously one that many of us can relate to, with increased isolation over the past few years having taken a major psychological toll on many people around the world. The result is a film that unexpectedly and refreshingly humanizes a feat that is, quite literally, otherworldly. It’s amazing to see a documentary treating astronauts as people first and explorers second.
There is one section in the movie that goes off on a bit of a tangent about the story of a group of Chilean miners being trapped underground. While the parallelism that the filmmakers are trying to create is obvious, it draws the audience out of the main storyline and nearly ruins the momentum of the movie as a whole.
That being said, the story of these researchers preparing for a journey to Mars is so fascinating that it soon gets back on track. A lot of space documentaries tend to focus more on the logistical and scientific elements of space travel, but Mizrahy focuses more on the internalistic and psychological aspects of the mission.
The film gives us the opportunity to get very up-close-and-personal with a few of the scientists, including one who is a mother of young children. These are the portions of the movie which are most effective — those which create a strong emotional connection between the audience and the subjects, allowing us to really feel the impact that this isolation has.
Of course, it still wouldn’t be a space documentary without gorgeous visuals, and there is no shortage of them in The Longest Goodbye. From the first scene, viewers will be absolutely awestruck by the cinematography showing the beauty of outer space — but even the parts of the film set back on Earth are wonderfully shot.
The Longest Goodbye is a gorgeous and poignant documentary, benefitting from a unique approach to its material. Apart from one section that feels a bit out-of-place, this is an informative, crowd-pleasing, and genuinely wonderful documentary.
The Longest Goodbye is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.