Now Streaming: ‘2020: A COVID Space Odyssey’ Captures the Pandemic from Afar

By Pat Mullen

Have you had a chance to watch the George Clooney film The Midnight Sky yet? The sci-fi drama, which is currently streaming on Netflix, sees Clooney’s Earth-bound scientist Augustine hold the fort as the last man on the planet’s surface when an unnamed catastrophe forces the remaining survivors of the human race underground. Up in space, Felicity Jones’s Sully leads a team of astronauts returning to Earth following a successful mission. The film follows their parallel stories as Augustine and Sully try to bridge the communication gap between Earth and the spaceship, with the astronauts eventually facing the dilemma of returning home to probable doom or staying in space

2020 proves that science fiction isn’t beyond the real, however, and the latest short doc from The Guardian captures a scenario that easily could have inspired Clooney’s film, and the book by Lily Brooks-Dalton on which it was based. 2020: A COVID Space Odyssey observes the pandemic from high above. Directors Alina Manolache and Vladimir Potop offer a portrait of the pandemic seen through the eyes of astronaut Jessica Meir during Expedition 62 on the International Space Station, which ran from September 2019 to April 2020 with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic right in the middle. The footage captures Meir’s thrill of floating without gravity and, significantly, completing the first all-female spacewalk. (Christina Koch was the other astronaut.)

Through personal diaries and extraordinary footage captured from the International Space Station, Meir reflects on the fragility of Earth from afar. Her team recognises that they’re returning to a world much different from the one they left, and that they may be the only three people unaffected by the pandemic. The film follows them back home with an ending that is unusual even for a sci-fi adventure, as the return to Earth feels eerier than a mission to a newly discovered planet does.

The doc adds a novel perspective to the growing field of films that capture experiences from the pandemic. However, the sense of isolation it captures connects it with tales from the ground during COVID-19. “We were experiencing a form of isolation in our homes and we felt somehow closer to astronauts because they too were exposed to living in a closed space for a long time,” explained Manolache in an interview with The Guardian. “In that sense, we felt that people on Earth and astronauts were somehow in the same position at that moment in time – though of course astronauts were already trained physically and psychologically to live in confinement, while for us the feeling was unfamiliar.” Oddly enough, Clooney’s pre-pandemic also captures the sense of isolation with a chill, so a double bill of 2020: A COVID Space Odyssey and The Midnight Sky might be an appropriate finale for the year.

Watch 2020: A COVID Space Story below and read more about the making of the doc here.