By: Paul Spring
If you are looking for a slow-build, suspenseful movie, Ad Astra fits that niche perfectly. Ad Astra plays out like a modern 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as having very similar traits to Interstellar (and the similarities are deeper than just taking place in space.) The movie is beautiful and brilliant, taking its time to reach every revelation along the ride.
Ad Astra is a sci-fi film from director James Gray and features Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. Pitt plays Roy McBride, an astronaut in a future with advanced space travel (and yet not too far into the future as black and white movies are still referenced more than once.) The movie’s plot centers around McBride’s journey across the solar system on a mission to save Earth. The story quickly dives into exploring a relationship between McBride and his missing father as McBride makes pit stops at perilous locations that each conveniently have more information to tell him about his father who has been lost in space for the past few years.
The greatest thing this film has going for it is Brad Pitt’s acting. Other actors do a fantastic job as well, but Brad Pitt exceeds expectations. Pitt’s character is mostly stoic throughout the movie, which makes it more surprising that you can feel a depth of emotion from a character that revolves around keeping his resolve. Almost every scene has Pitt’s character, McBride, narrating his thoughts and the film constantly juxtaposes McBride’s inner monologue with his solemn and unmoving face.
A huge theme in the film is the psychological impact of trauma and loss. McBride is repeatedly given psych evaluations and the movie really wants to point out the differences in reactions between characters that all undergo a similar crisis. A lot of difficult topics, such as death, are wrestled with by many characters more than once. There isn’t much action in the movie, a few minutes maybe in the two-hour runtime, as most of the focus is placed on consequences and contemplation.
There are also several other symbolic aspects of the film, especially with spiritual themes. There are instances of characters revering creation while other characters clearly represent an unfulfilled search for spiritual meaning. McBride seeks to find himself somewhere in the vastness of space and the film digs deep into character introspection and where they each fit in the cogs of reality. Aside from that, color changes and lights play a large role in drawing your focus to linger on important details.
However, a major drawback of Ad Astra is the pace of the movie as mentioned before. Many viewers probably wouldn’t enjoy sitting through a movie that consists mostly of prolonged shots of spaceships. The pace changes rapidly too, speeding up so much in action scenes that it is difficult for viewers to keep up. The lack of plot outside of the deep philosophical questions might also disinterest some movie-goers.
Overall, I recommend Ad Astra to anyone that is a fan of outer space or psychological films full of suspense. It definitely isn’t one that will let you sit back and relax; it’ll require some thought and maybe a little grip to the edge of your seat.