Ad Astra (AU - M/UK - 12A/US - PG-13)

In A Word: Introspective

Ad Astra

Director James Gray is no stranger to the Cannes Film Festival. His previous movies We Own the Night, The Yards, Two Lovers and The Immigrant all received award nominations at Cannes. His latest film Ad Astra (Latin for “To The Stars”) fuses the blockbuster concept of an epic space opera with the introspection you would expect from an arthouse foreign film.

"Ad Astra is film of great contrasts. It is a meditation on the vastness of the cosmos and the need for intimacy. It is compares the perils of outer space to the inner conflicts of the mind. And finally it demonstrates the great distance that is travelled to be close to the ones we love."

Brad Pitt is Major Roy Mcbride, an astronaut in the near future whose discipline and courage is matched only by his emotional detachment. When a secret deep space science project led by his father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), threatens all life on Earth, Roy is sent on a covert mission that takes him to the Moon, Mars and the outer reaches of the solar system. On this perilous journey, he encounters pirates, derelict spacecraft, rabid beasts, government conspiracies and the loneliness of space. However, the greatest challenge that Roy faces is confronting his father after a 30 year absence.

There is no doubt that Ad Astra is visually impressive. Giant space structure, vehicles, zero gravity combat and explosions are all realised with great realism. Yet for all this external spectacle, Ad Astra constantly refocuses on the personal journey of Roy and the inner conflicts within him. Much of the speaking in the film is either narrated by Roy or is one of his many “psych evaluations” where he reflects upon his regrets and fears. This creates a deliberate contrast between the dangers of space, which never seem to phase Roy, and the threats to his sanity which feel like the real threat.

Like other films in the genre such as Interstellar, Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ad Astra uses the journey through space as a parable about life. In this case there is a strong message that the vastness of space should motivate us to draw closer to loved ones and that neither work nor ambition should replace the connection to family. Whereas Interstellar’s message was about the love of a father crossing time and space to save the world, Ad Astra shows how the absence of a father threatens to destroy humanity.

While the ideas have great weight, the execution is not entirely flawless. There is a cryptic vagueness to several characters that leave a number of plot points without a satisfactory explanation. Among them are Colonel Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) and the commander of Mars base, Helen Lantos (Ruth Nega) whose motivations are somewhat mysterious.

Despite this, Brad Pitt’s performance is compelling and he conveys determination, loneliness, longing, loss and eventually the desire to love with nuance and conviction.

Ad Astra is film of great contrasts. It is a meditation on the vastness of the cosmos and the need for intimacy. It is compares the perils of outer space to the inner conflicts of the mind. And finally it demonstrates the great distance that is travelled to be close to the ones we love.