On the surface Ad Astra presents itself as a fairly straight forward science fiction tale about the relationships between father and son. But in reality, it has a lot more to say about modern society, the role of masculinity, and our purpose as people. In Ad Astra, the father/son theme and even all of the science fiction goodies were merely a tool to take you to the bigger theme of existentialism. But it’s done in a way where you can enjoy it all.
Director James Gray created a world set somewhere in the “near future” 30ish after astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) led a voyage into deep space, in search of intelligent life. After the crew reached Neptune they were never heard from again. Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) follows in his father’s steps as an astronaut and as strange events coming from Neptune suggest the crew may not be dead, it is up to him to attempt to make contact with his father on a daring mission to Mars. When he reaches Mars his dutiful nature is turned upside down.
If you are looking for scientific accuracy or realism it does not exist here. The film moves at a very slow pace, embracing moments, stunning cinematography, allowing you real-time to absorb what McBride is experiencing. Because of this, it gives us a lot more time to notice exactly how many of these outrageous fallacies there are. You find yourself saying,
“Um hey, that’s not how science works.”
You say that a lot. Ad Astra revels in its self-created fantasy, and if you embrace the bigger picture you realize the science isn’t the point. Regardless, there are a few unforgivable events that happen. I still am struggling with the Mars to Neptune arc. It is too important to let convenience overtrump the necessity of it.
Bob Ross Approved
Make no mistake, it is beautiful to look at. Most of the film’s dialogue revolves around Pitt’s commentary which is minimalistic. Our point of view is through his eyes and experience what he does. Some of this is magnificent and some of it is downright excruciating. A “Hilton” and “TGI Friday’s” on the Moon is a heart-wrenching reality. Mankind once again managed to lose all the wonder and essence in favor of capital.
What I did love was the sense of uniqueness of each location. Earth was full of life and color, but as you got further away you sense the emptiness and vastness of space. With the sun as your beacon moving further and further away that solitude became more and more evident. The blue and white hues of the moon were beautiful, and the comparison of the wild west heightened the sense of lawless tension. The red emptiness of Mars was tangible, and the exquisite darkness and vastness of Neptune were awe-inspiring, feeling like a true final frontier.
It’s In Our Nature to Destroy Ourselves
What felt less heavy-handed than the father/son and existential evolution of the young McBride was also the observation of where our “progress” will eventually lead mankind in the constant search for something new. The advances of technology seem to have changed very little even though we’ve managed to travel much further. Ultimately, it feels like Dad McBride’s lack of discovery about life on other planets in other systems is more of a reflection of humanity’s perverse vision of the universe.
Pitt’s comment on him not “seeing what was there” felt more like a remark on our inability to see the mystery and magic in the world because of human greed.
This is a story told through the journey of Roy McBride played by Brad Pitt who exemplifies exactly why he is one of the greatest movie stars alive. In the beginning, Roy is not so different than his missing father. He’s focused solely on his professional life, emotionally compartmentalizes everything, and has abandoned any hope of happiness in his own life.
Pitt is extraordinary in this journey. His stoic reactions and behavior through the first half of the film set a very slow unraveling of even microreactors and changes before he takes that giant leap and begins his metamorphosis. When he finally faces this existential crisis it is my favorite part of the film along with my least favorite because of how they achieve his goal. Even so, he reaches a point on Mars where he does what so many of us are terrified to do.
McBride takes his life in his own hands. He no longer is going to follow the rules society, the government, laws, and everything he has ever known has told him he has to do. He does what he feels is the right thing to do. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it’s the first true moment where he has a sense of his self rather than the dutiful robot. It’s incredibly powerful and if you experience it with him, you may have the sense that you can change the path your life is on as well. Big picture, perhaps in doing so maybe we can alter our roles in society and what they mean on a bigger scale. But, we must start with ourselves.
Liv Tyler’s Boyfriends Are Always Leaving Her Behind
You feel the weight that Roy McBride has carried with him his entire life and you see what drives him. If nothing else Ad Astra does an exceptional job of transferring those emotions and experiences through the screen, but it also leaves enough there for us to personalize the experience. It’s a quiet film, and in its silence, it cleverly delivers several important messages about the nature of man, evolution, and the magic in life if we are willing to be brave enough to see it.