The two-faced nature of Ad Astra requires the movie to be seen in theaters. Because half of the movie is a basic, cliché, overly predictable father-son drama, but the other one might have something deeper. Either way, the cinematography is what unites them into something enjoyable (and you also need to see Brad Pitt‘s face on the big screen).
Let’s begin this review with getting the negative aspects off my chest.
Had this movie been set on earth, maybe with another actor than Brad Pitt, maybe I would have fallen asleep. Let’s be honest, aside from the sudden monkey attack in SPACE, everything is predictable, and rather basic. A threat to humanity. Car chases but this time, on the moon. Lonely and contemplative astronaut delivering some kind of deep message while conducting an unprecedented mission to go after his father — to go after his past, really. Going from admiring this pioneer hero figure to slowly realizing that no one is really who they say they are (that might come off as a big shock to you), and also coming to terms with the fact that maybe we are our parents. Maybe sons are their fathers. And of course, Roy McBride has to share his inner monologue with some deep quote that goes “In the end, the son suffers from the sins of the father.” But maybe you get to decide who you want to be, what you want to leave for the world.
Again, none of this could have been that good if it was a common, earth-set movie, but the fact that you get to see the stars, stare at the moon, the earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune… this is a movie worth seeing in theaters, because cinematography (and Brad Pitt) is really what matters. I think I can say that space movies have now normalized seeing the Moon, our planet, even Mars or black holes. But some parts of the solar system aren’t usually pictured in space movies, like Neptune, and it was the prettiest thing I have ever seen. This shade of blue, the asteroids…
What is also interesting about this is how the near future is portrayed. It isn’t some apocalyptic dust world like Nolans, it is just a continuation of what we are currently doing. A Moon that’s been colonized, where you can find a Subway, and reach with a commercial flight. You can even pay 125$ for a blanket and pillow package, if you’re not comfortable enough. Going to space and seeing the stars isn’t what it used to be. The romantic idea of being an astronaut is fading, and this is just our world. And this is actually frightening, thinking that this near future isn’t an unrealistic apocalyptic and chaotic world, but what we are well on our way to achieve.
And most importantly : this is a character-driven story. The size of the universe doesn’t change the fact that this is personal, this is about humans and their relationships to one another, the fact that they need each other. It’s quiet — again, except when the monkey attacks? — and it can only emphasizes Pitt’s taciturn and subtle performance, as this whole journey he spends utterly alone, consists in facing the void, and doing so, facing himself.
“I’m alone. I’m alone. I’m alone.”
Ad Astra’s emotional blankness is what sheds light on loneliness, abandonment, alienation. Roy has what it takes to survive in this line of work. Astronaut emotional compartmentalization is what gets you through space travel, what helps you survive. But it’s also bottled-up baggages and a vulnerability that you should embrace. And this is what the movie is truly about. Choosing life, choosing people. Not letting go, and even if this was predictable, seeing Roy deciding not to follow his father’s destiny, going from ‘why go on’ to ‘i will live, and i will love’ made me happy.
Ad Astra hasn’t got the greatest plot, that we can’t deny. But it definitely needs to be seen in theaters so you can appreciate the beauty of the cinematography without being bothered by inconsistencies, or more than unrealistic moments. And if you look a bit deeper, behind that basic epic façade, maybe you can find something to really connect with, because it’s all about empathy. Protecting yourself is a necessity to survive, but truly living is about letting people in. Living, loving.