Brad Pitt’s recent film Ad Astra is about much more than space travel.
This past fall saw the release of director James Gray’s (The Lost City of Z) space-set drama, Ad Astra. Written by Gray and Ethan Gross (Fringe), the film stars Brad Pitt as Roy McBride, a Major in the U.S. Space Command or SpaceCom, who is sent on a mission to reach his father (Tommy Lee Jones, MIB) in an effort to save the entire solar system. The film spends little time with any characters outside of Roy, but features Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Loren Dean and Liv Tyler in small yet memorable roles. The center of the story focuses on Roy’s relationship with his father and how that relationship, and their similarities have impacted Roy’s life.
Ad Astra is an amazing film, with phenomenal acting by Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast. The score and the cinematography heighten the thematic elements in a way that is imperative to making this film work. There are times where the film makes a leap due to it’s setting, but it never feels ridiculous or out of place. Everything moves so seamlessly that it feels as if you’re softly moving through space yourself. But the most important element of all of this is without a doubt the plot and the deeper subtext within.
Roy McBride is brought into SpaceCom at the beginning of the film and is advised on a classified mission that his father embarked on 30 years prior. His father and a team of astronauts were sent to Neptune as part of “Project Lima” to attempt to make contact with or find other life beyond our solar system. Now, surges of antimatter are traversing through our solar system causing catastrophic damage to everything they pass through. It’s determined that the surges are coming from the antimatter power source for Project Lima’s ship, and Roy is tasked with communicating with his father for the first time in 30 years, in the hopes that he can stop the surges and save all of humankind.
The film takes it’s time with moving Roy from Earth to the moon, and then further into space step by step as he tries to reach his father. In doing so it focuses on Roy’s internal monologue, and gives us insight into how he has learned to compartmentalize everything in his life. While Roy at first attributes this coping mechanism to the job he has as a Major in SpaceCom, it becomes clear that this is something that began with the departure of his father 30 years ago. Roy was unable to cope with the idea of never seeing his father again and thus followed in his footsteps as a way of trying to connect with him. After 30 years of pushing aside his feelings and focusing on his work, his work now asks him to directly connect with his father.
Ad Astra is an intensely powerful film because it questions what it means to be a man, and how we cope as move forward as men. It’s easy to live life in solitude, to compartmentalize and bottle up our emotions so that we can move forward successfully. But it’s important to open ourselves up, and to be willing to connect with others. It’s impossible to have healthy relationships, and live a good and satisfying life if all we do is internalize every single issue that we come across. Communication and the ability to connect with others is a vital part of what makes us human, and by trying to discourage that, and trying to subdue that- in order to save face and seem reliable and strong, weakens us greatly.
The film doesn’t ask us what the right thing to do is, it simply shows the damaging effects of solitude and internalizing emotions. However, it does ask us how we decide to move forward when we acknowledge that we have grown comfortable in solitude. Is it better to remain in that world, or is it better to open up, and be vulnerable to whatever comes our way. That’s a decision that each man or woman must make on their own, but it’s important to acknowledge the damage we cause not only to ourselves but to those around us. Even when simply acknowledging it is painful.
Sometimes the things we try to do in order to save ourselves, can destroy everything we love in this universe. It’s important to step back at times and look at the bigger picture, to see what our impact is and to maybe change course. The problem is we don’t always see that we need to reassess ourselves until damage has already been done. Sometimes we only see that something is faulty when it breaks, because we thought for so long that, if it held up to the scrutiny of the past then it could hold up against anything that comes forward. But eventually a bridge can only take so much weight, and when it collapses, the damage can be catastrophic.
Ad Astra is currently available on Amazon.