“Always remember: You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” – A.A. Milne
Ad Astra is a sprawling epic stretched to the farthest reaches of our galaxy in search of the unknown. It is immense in scope and consequence as it ponders our place in the universe. However it would be a bit misguided to think of this story on such grandiose terms. While the physical journey of Brad Pitt’s character is one of unyielding adversities and certainly cannot be overlooked, I would classify Ad Astra first and foremost as an introspective journey into the complexities of fathers and their sons.
It explores the desire of a son seeking approval from his father. It examines what happens when a father seemingly turns his back on his relationship with his son for what he deems greater things. Lastly, and possibly most important, it shows an abandoned son still reaching out to the one person who hurt him, his long lost father. Pitt’s character, Roy, contemplates his place in the universe but more important to him he wonders about the place in his father’s heart. “Is he even an afterthought?” he questions cautiously.
At the helm of this journey of looking inward while transiting outward is talented director, James Gray. His work has been on the main stage before but he has still remained at the fray of Hollywood with Ad Astra quite possibly being his biggest film to date. While not exactly a household name, I’ve been following his career now for a few years and with each new project I am seeing him stretch his wings just a bit further every time. We Own the Night, The Lost City of Z, and The Yards are some of his most notable efforts so far. With Ad Astra he takes his first look to the stars as both writer and director creating a truly beautiful and haunting journey into the unknown. He is a talented creator and I hope this will finally get his name out there in greater respect.
Brad Pitt stars as Roy McBride, an astronaut with a history that precedes him everywhere he goes. And it is because of this history that he is tasked with a monumentally treacherous mission of absolute secrecy and personal implications. This history that has been present his entire life is his father, H. Clifford McBride, an astronaut himself famous the world over for facing the uncharted farthest reaches of the galaxy in search of mankind’s greatest questions. Once heralded a hero, Roy’s father may in fact now be acting in aggression against the galaxy and as a result our own planet. Roy is asked to discover the truth of what has been causing mysterious energy bursts emanating from the possible location of Roy’s long lost, once believed to be deceased father, H. Clifford McBride.
This journey that Roy embarks on is one of unimaginable isolation and ruthless introspection. He wonders why he became an astronaut. Was it to please the one person who would never know? Did he become what he is to prove his worth in a world where is father is a hero, a mantle overshadowing everything he would ever accomplish? Isolated and going against protocol, Roy is wandering in every regard imaginable. His journey to the farthest reaches is very much a metaphor for his yearning to reach out to the one man he ever really sought approval from, his larger than life father. As he travels endlessly he wonders what he will find. He questions whether he wants to find anything at all. To face his father in such a delicate state is overwhelming for Roy but still he presses on, desperate for answers.
Brad Pitt is having a fantastic year having stolen the spotlight in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and now with Ad Astra, in a Cast Away type role set in the horrifying emptiness of space. Lost in the thoughts of his character, Pitt delivers a performance of stoic bravery cracked with self doubt and intense yearning for that which is impossible to grasp. He portrays on the outside a cold but calculated astronaut ready for duty, ready to face anything and everything except the one thing that will inevitably break his facade of bravery, himself. Even when faced with his father he looks inward as a gauge of what is it to be a man. Pitt carries his role with absolute conviction and while his character can seem uncaring at times, he lets out moments of vulnerability making him someone still trying to find the answers to his own life, something I think we can all relate to.
Although the setting is impossible to fathom being enveloped by, it’s the story of a father and son that truly elevates this into something quite special. We’ve all been in a situation seeking the validation of someone we look up to. We’ve all been there when it falls apart, leaving us broken. Ad Astra explores these themes against the backdrops of a vacuous space, a dirt drowned planet, a war riddled moon, and in the minds of explorers setting out into the impossible. It is gorgeous visually and mentally engaging. The action sequences are big and encompassing. Ad Astra is a welcome surprise to begin the Fall movie season, my favorite time for movies.
“Through adversity to the stars” – Ad Astra
Rated PG-13 For: some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language
Runtime: 122 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Mystery
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga
Directed By: James Gray
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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