James Gray’s “AD ASTRA”
Review by Dennis D. McDonald
We live in an era of high-quality science-fiction films such as Arrival, Moon, Annihilation, Interstellar, and now, Ad Astra. Common themes are high-quality production values coupled with mature, thoughtful, and even realistic dramatic content.
Ad Astra definitely qualifies. Its most impressive feature is that it’s more a character study than a “traditional” sci-fi film. True, sci-fi elements are there (space ships, travel through the solar system, the rings of Neptune) and visually they are second to none. Yet the main appeal is Brad Pitt’s performance as an astronaut who journeys into deep space to find his lost long lost astronaut father whose actions now threaten humanity. By doing so he must deal with long suppressed emotional trauma.
The movie has its faults. There are some technical inaccuracies (and impossibilities) where some onscreen events seems to defy the laws of physics, especially towards the end of the film. But this is more than made up for by Pitt’s performance, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s extraordinary photography, and the matter of fact way that future settlements on the Moon and Mars are visualized.
For those seeking a crash-bang SF adventure there may be some disappointment. The action sequences when they do occur are visceral and superbly done. But that’s not the point of this movie. Instead it’s the exploration of what happens when long compartmentalized and controlled emotions like loss, grief, and anger force their way to the surface. There’s no escaping such realities whether one is living on Earth, the Moon, Mars, or in a space ship orbiting Neptune and its rings.
Ancient mariners understood what can happen on long voyages. So do the astronauts that live in low earth orbit for extended lengths of time.
There’s no escaping who you are or the influence of how you were raised. As Buckaroo Banzai said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
Review copyright © 2019 by Dennis D. McDonald