Sundance 2023: ‘The Longest Goodbye’ Review
The following is part of Full Circle Cinema’s coverage of Sundance 2023.
Space. A Rorschach test for the mind. Some view it as a new frontier, an endless black sea to ride upon in search of great wonders. To the more skeptical mind, space, specifically space travel, is a fool’s pursuit that does more damage to the travelers than it does good to the world. To this day, it’s been difficult to draw a conclusion as to the benefits of space travel. In the documentary The Longest Goodbye, Ido Mizrahy attempts to provide some sort of an answer to that question. Unfortunately, he comes up short in a think piece that falls apart because of its own lack of cohesion.
The Longest Goodbye loosely – emphasis on the loosely – follows the research of NASA psychologist Dr. Al Holland, who is trying to suss out the psychological effects of extended separation of human beings from Earth. The goal here is to get accurate data to try and assist in mitigating these effects for a theoretical trip to Mars in the future. From here, the film clumsily goes between various threads to attempt to portray these effects in totality. This includes a mother separated from her family, a newlywed embarking upon a three-year mission to the international space station, or a terrestrial test of what Mars living would be like.
For those with a deep passion for space travel, there are elements of The Longest Goodbye that might make it a worthy sit. For example, the space photography across various areas is gorgeous. When The Longest Goodbye lets go of its shambling narrative pretense, it simply lets the audience see astronauts floating around in zero gravity and performing their tasks, juxtaposed with their interactions with family members via telechat while they’re back on Earth or their total lack of communication. As the cold reaches of space stare out ahead, Mizrahy makes us feel a profound isolation and a strange beauty. This plants the question of whether this has a negative effect on the human psyche more strongly than any overwrought narration.
Some of the vignettes within The Longest Goodbye resonate as they’re supposed to. The struggles of trying to parent via space particularly sting. Relying on crude video chat, the heartbreak is palpable once bad connection overtakes the conversation. Moreover, it’s interesting to see a younger woman embrace the freedom of space. The experimental “living on Mars” test might be the most thought-provoking aspect of the film. The problem is none of these bits receive breathing room, nor do they connect in any meaningful way. They’re contradictory to each other, and not in a purposeful way. All we have to connect these stories is the vague drone of Dr. Holland repeating theories about isolation.
Never does The Longest Goodbye feel like it approaches anything resembling a conclusion about the effects on humans in space. More than anything, it’s a series of loose vignettes edited down to remove anything insightful. The looser structure might’ve been a boon if the vignettes had more development, allowing audiences to draw their own conclusions. Sadly, Mizrahy is on an unnecessary race to the finish line, not remotely interested in anything but posing a question. Since that question emerges in the first few minutes, the rest of the film proceeds like an overlong amateur documentary. Maybe as a five-minute thought experiment on YouTube, this may have succeeded.
The Longest Goodbye stands as proof positive that an interesting concept does not an interesting documentary make. The sloppy, surface-level storytelling does nothing with a bounty of incredible real-life footage to work with. That footage still makes the film worth checking out for those who want to see how astronauts maintain their human relationships in space. To those who like their documentaries to offer anything deeper than the surface level, watching this one is an easy prospect to say goodbye to. – James Preston Poole
The Longest Goodbye does not currently have a U.S. release date.