A moving look at fathers, sons, and our own humanity set amongst the stars
IMDB Synopsis: Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.
Ad Astra is a masterpiece. It’s a cinematic achievement that features a true A-list actor (Brad Pitt), made by an incredible filmmaker (James Gray), and featuring some of the most stunning production design. And it’s in space. Like, all over the solar system. And be sure to see it in IMAX if possible, it’s a real treat for the senses as Gray juxtaposes quiet, thoughtful moments with jarring and frenetic action set pieces (again, in space!).
Set in the near future, the film follows Roy McBride (Pitt) as a disconnected, driven, and nearly emotionless astronaut who is coopted on a mission to rescue—so we think—his estranged hero father H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) on the edge of the solar system. That’s essentially it. It’s a rescue mission. But what makes this film interesting isn’t the story, it’s the themes and the fact that the film wears those themes proudly. There is nothing hidden about what the movie is trying to do and say.
has daddy issues is about fathers and sons. About the lifetime a son spends chasing his father’s approval or outrunning the shadow they cast. And in the case, giving purpose to one’s life, or so they would believe. Here, the shadow cast by the elder McBride is larger than life. A genius astronaut hero, H. Clifford moved mankind forward in his quest for intelligent life amongst the stars. Roy spent a lifetime emulating his father—as so many do—in hopes of approval, praise, or closure—and the promise of purpose that’ll never come. This has led Roy down a lonely path, pushing his wife/partner (Liv Tyler) away, and damaging his psyche (as we’ll see in the third act).
By the end, the film takes the father-son relationship—and the closure we’re expecting as an audience—and uses it to fashion Ad Astra into a cautionary tale about human, personal connection. Not about chasing the uncatchable (your father’s approval), but appreciating what you have (Tyler). And on a macro level, not to despond about the lack of intelligent life among the stars, but to celebrate human life on Earth. To connect with those you love. To carve out real connections and find meaning despite our cosmically small existence. To become who we are meant to be, not who we think we should. In short, reach for the stars, but don’t forget the ground under your feet.
Highlights: Production design and cinematography. The camera languorously pans across landscapes familiar and not. It puts you in the driver’s seat (sometimes literally) for action sequences. Visually, the film imagines the Moon, Mars, Neptune, spaceships, and even lakes as we’ve never seen them. This is worth the admission alone.
MVP: Brad Pitt. Perhaps the finest performance he’s ever given? Oscar-worthy.
Should you see it: Yes because when the credits rolled, I realized I’d been watching a very human story, just in a science fiction setting. More of Arrival than Gravity. 9/10.
Studio: 20th Century Fox // Original release date: September 20, 2019