- 11 Oct 19
Brad Pitt tackles daddy issues in space
In space, no-one can hear you repress your emotions due to the damaging impact of toxic masculinity.
Acclaimed indie director James Gray's first big-budget feature heightens his unique blend of action and introspection to cosmic proportions. Set in the near future, Ad Astra takes place in a world where you can board a commercial flight to space, and when you land, you'll find coffee franchises and gift shops. We mastered space travel just to gentrify the moon.
Humanity's propensity for perpetuating damaging cycles is at the heart of Gray's film, which stars Brad Pitt as veteran astronaut Roy McBride. Roy is sent on an enigmatic mission to Neptune in order to make contact with his father, Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones), a national hero who led the first voyage into deep space, 30 years ago, and hasn't been heard from since.
Roy embarks on a multi-stop voyage to track the father he barely knew, which includes a car-chase on Mars, an ill-fated rescue mission, and a mutiny. Using deeply questionable rules regarding gravity, Gray captures both the absurdity and profundity of these moments, unexpectedly showing threats that seem all too Earth-tethered to exist in space. Therein lies the less and the more of these sequences; they do little to propel the plot, but clearly demonstrate that - as any good shrink or colonisation historian will tell you - humans bring our same old issues with us, wherever we go.
Roy illustrates this via plaintive but overused voiceover, agonising over his relationship with his father and his place in the universe - in overlapping ways. "I'm being pulled farther/father from the sun/son" - Roy's Therapy 101 epiphanies are both frustrating and pathos-filled, as we watch an emotionally stunted man struggling to transcend a limited legacy.
This also feels like Gray's struggle. Ad Astra has visual and emotional echoes of Kubrick and Heart Of Darkness, and like many space-set films, centres on a male character musing philosophically about the self and mortality. It's both impressive and deeply conventional. Its heart-wrenching final thesis statement is a stunner, however, and will help Gray with reviews. On Earth, everyone can hear you be more appreciative.