The enemy up here is not a person or a thing. It’s the endless void.

Ad Astra ( 2019 )

  |   Sept. 29, 2019

The near future, as imagined by James Gray's Ad Astra, looks and feels like the modern world. The cities, the houses, the people, they all look the same. But this is a world of space travel, where a trip to the moon is not far separated from today's long haul flights. The moon itself is a bustling hive of tourism and commercialism, and further afield, Mars is home to an underground military base, so long established that many of its residents have spent almost their whole lives there.

Roy McBride (Pitt) is the son of pioneering space explorer Clifford McBride (Jones), and a highly decorated astronaut in his own right. His father, along with his crew, disappeared 16 years during the Lima Project, a mission to explore Neptune and search for intelligent life. Long believed dead, a spattering of energy surges that threaten the very existence of life on earth are traced back to his spaceship. The surges must stop, at any cost, and Roy is sent to Mars to relay a message from there, encouraging his father to stop, and to come home, if he can.

Roy's cosmic journey aligns with a deeply personal one. He is a calm, steady hand, but his personal life casts a heavy shadow over him. He struggles to deal with the breakup of his marriage, and the loss of his father. He can't find a place for himself on earth, and instead looks to the emptiness of space. His voyage through the cosmos to find his father draws parallels with Williard's trek through the Cambodian jungle to find Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Both searchers battle themselves and their surroundings in search of a madman, and encounter a journey that would inspire that madness. Space, despite its emptiness, or maybe because of it, is just as unsettling as the jungle. It is vast, empty, and lonely.

Ad Astra does so much right throughout. It looks spectacular and, for a movie set on such a vast scale, intensely intimate. However, not everything works. The dangerous world of space is a little clumsily manufactured, and the incidents our travellers encounter seem placed more for shock factor than as a natural part of this world. It also seems hollow that such a tender movie would care so little about its supporting characters, who are discarded without ceremony throughout. However, it is a movie that hinges on the performance of its leading star, and Brad Pitt delivers exquisitely. His reserved but powerful performance carries an extreme emotional weight, which lasts far beyond the end credits. For that alone, Ad Astra is worth a watch. 

Directed by
James Gray
Starring
Brad Pitt
Tommy Lee Jones
Ruth Negga
Liv Tyler
Donald Sutherland
Runtime: 124 minutes
Ad Astra (2019) on IMDb