Ad Astra (dir. James Gray, 2019) – Astronaut Roy McBride goes on a deep space expedition to uncover the truth about his missing father, whose mission now threatens the Earth.
A meditative and thoughtful space odyssey, Ad Astra is beauty to behold on the surface and within.
Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) steps out of his spacecraft, and perches on a towering antenna on a regular maintenance mission. All appears to go well. Then, a power surge strikes with sudden force. He floats to a neighbouring rig, attempting to shut off the voltage, but the damage is done. His pulse remains steady. He looks down at the majesty of the Earth beneath.
It is a heart-stopping opening that does well to introduce the man of the hour in Ad Astra. His stoicism wavers not even in face of death, revealing a hardened heart of a difficult past.
The source of the surges gives him a chance to revisit that past, when SpaceCom reveals their discovery. Roy’s father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) is alive, sixteen years after going missing on a mission to find intelligent life.
Sent on a mission to find his father, Roy accepts with no qualms. He leaves behind his family, as easily as his father had once done. History repeats itself, both men unable to find a meaningful connection to those closest to them. All they had, was not enough. Instead, they shoot to the skies for unreachable answers.
“I do what I do, because of my dad,” Roy asserts when speaking of his calling, and in that, says much more than he means to.
As Clifford took solace in feeling closer to his creator, to God’s presence, Roy took comfort in feeling closer to his. They had each given up what had been in their grasp, in pursuit of something beyond. Sic itur ad astra, thus one journey to the stars, when here and now no longer suffices.
What we find, will not change who we are. We see that in humanity as a whole. Years later, much of our worst has remained the same, despite advances in our technology. Space becomes a tourist trap. Our greed manifests in consumerism and warmongering piracy that deadens the beauty of nature, even across the galaxy.
The deeply dismal state amplifies the hopelessness and solitude Roy feels. He floats through a world that he recognises, but does not feel connected to. In Roy, Brad Pitt shows vulnerability in calculated slips from his seeming indifference. His moving performance finds company in Max Richter’s stirring composition, invoking his sense of unrequited longing – for answers, closure, and acceptance.
Softly behind his steady pulse, his dormant emotions throb just beneath the surface, as though simply waiting to erupt. He recites his psychiatric evaluations, each more personal than his last confession. Each time, a cold, automated voice answers, never truly understanding the weight of his words. The lasting sense of void grows around, and within him.
But what if we are all that there is? Did it seem right then, that he had fixated on an uncertainty of what he lost, at the cost of the certainty of what he already had? Forthright in its eventual answers, Ad Astra implores retrospection into the personal missions that we put ourselves on, and an appreciation for what we might have missed along the way.