Ad Astra – an interstellar journey into the human condition


Ad Astra is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

In 2016 James Grey brought us the underrated The Lost City of Z, a film focused on the relentless human need for exploration and understanding and the desire to risk everything in answering a singular question. In many ways, Ad Astra continues the themes born in Grey’s earlier film as he explores the human desire to answer the biggest question of our existence “Are we alone in our universe?”

Brad Pitt plays Major Roy McBride, an astronaut renowned for staying calm under pressure. However, McBride’s dedication to his career has created isolation in his private life, his relationships stifled by a steadfast devotion to exploration. Here the need to achieve is only enhanced by his famous astronaut father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), a man who went missing while on an expedition to the solar system’s outer reaches. His father was part of a crew whose mission was to find evidence of extraterrestrial life, a mission that everyone believes to have been a failure. However, when life on Earth is threatened by a series of mysterious power surges emanating from Neptune, Roy finds himself enlisted on a top-secret mission to find his father’s missing ship. But could Roy’s dad still be out there?


Ad Astra owes much to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now in its core themes. Here Roy’s inner thoughts are narrated by Pitt as the journey to find a man he thought was dead takes him to the edge of reason. This is a journey wrapped in the cloak of repressed emotions long since buried as Roy unpicks the realities of the father he lost long ago. Here the war at the heart of Coppola’s film is replaced by the destructive human expansion into space, an expansion that has seen the moon become a grand shopping mall. Like Sheen’s Captain Willard, Pitt’s Roy floats through each scene, wrapped in his ever-growing battle with his mission, questioning his purpose as he steps into the unknown.

However, at its core, Ad Astra is the story of a broken father/son relationship where the child (Roy) is paying the price of his father’s need for exploration and escape. Here Roy unknowingly follows in his father’s footsteps, becoming the absent male who torments him. Ad Astra is a film about role models, reality versus fiction and the stories we form in childhood to protect ourselves from pain. As a result, those seeking a standard summer blockbuster may leave disappointed, as this is far more than a blockbuster; it’s a think piece that has a lot in common with the likes of Claire Denis’ superb High Life.

Director: James Gray

Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, John Ortiz, Loren Dean, Kimberly Elise.


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