Film Review: Ad Astra

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Hallo Spaceboy, bye bye love. 

Warning: This review alludes to the film’s ending. 

What’s missing from modern movies you ask? Could it be silence? Quiet contemplation? Psychological nuance? Solemnity and majesty, over noise and incident? Well thank fuck for Ad Astra. It’s a father-son psychodrama set in the furthest reaches of our solar system, in an unspecified near future, in which we’ve wisely chosen not to take our foot off the space pedal; a movie that recalls a time when the medium had sufficient faith in its audience to say little, take its time, and contemplate life’s big questions.

Apocalypse Now in space it may be, but it’s a version of Heart of Darkness with emotional ballast; a movie that understatedly intercuts the vastness of space and the miracle of space travel, with the unexplored nooks of the psyche.

Brad Pitt’s astronaut is summoned to track down his missing father, long disappeared in orbit around Neptune, when Dad’s experimental vessel begins emitting pulses that threaten the globe. On this the film hangs a voyage of discovery for Pitt as he wrestles with the memory of the father who left him, the man he’s become as a consequence, and the wisdom of obsessing over technological endeavour and philosophy at the expense of self-knowledge.

On paper that might read as a somewhat regressive manifesto, but the film successfully balances the two – suggesting there’s both value in space exploration and valuing what we have here on Earth. For Pitt’s relationship with women, with his emotions, read our climate – our future. Like all great space movies, Ad Astra knows that progress without enlightenment is simply technological refinement. Humanity means more than that, and what a great time to be reminded.

Pitt is great as the man with the world on your shoulders. Though you may have read elsewhere that his masculine travails come at the expense of any meaningful womanhood, for there’s very little on display, this is a worthy journey for a character who has repressed his true nature in a bid to aspire to an archetype, a myth of masculinity.

Ad Astra is an often beautiful and scientifically aware space drama, resplendent with visual invention and canny sound design. It’s also the swansong but 20th Century Fox; one of their last mainstream adult genre pictures, completed before the takeover by Disney. It’s a pity that just at the moment an old institution rediscovered how to make a meaningful movie, it’s been absorbed by a pastiche and remake factory. When Pitt found his father, only to lose him a short time later, I knew exactly how he felt.

Directed by: James Gray

Country: US

Year: 2019

Running Time: 122 mins

Certificate: 12A for Virgin Atlantic's real world insistence on including their brand on a space flight and moon base when the journey the brand refers to - London to New York - would not be relevant - not to mention the fact a Virgin Galactic brand exists and this might be the only opportunity for it to make good on its promise to commercially ferry people to the Moon, a space ape, and an underused Donald Sutherland.

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