Ad Astra — Minimal and Reflective

(Originally written on October 9, 2019)

The vastness of space has always intrigued me, and even more so when depicted in film. I’ve enjoyed movies with ‘realistic’ representations (Apollo 13), and ones with more fictitious settings (Star Trek/Wars, Interstellar, Armageddon). Ad Astra (Latin for “to the stars”) leans more towards the former with interesting world building and exceptional visuals, but exercises a quieter and slower pace throughout.

The story centers around Major Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt), son of renowned astronaut H. Clifford McBride, who is assigned to investigate the cause of mysterious electrical surges that randomly occur and threaten all of human life. He is also informed of how his father may somehow be involved. Though seemingly a simple task, it weighs heavily on Roy because of having a strained relationship with his father growing up.

Before continuing, it must be mentioned how Ad Astra is a slow burn. I was okay with it because I don’t mind that style of pacing, but I understand how this could turn some moviegoers off. This isn’t an action movie with high intensity, nor one that has much dialogue from the main character. Speaking of, Brad Pitt excellently balances Roy’s outer stoicism and inner cynicism. His performance is very understated here. You have to be incredibly focused on the miniscule shifts in expression, a feat that pulled me in rather than took me out of the movie. But again, that might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

I admired the visually striking depiction of space presented here. It’s pure spectacle, and I’m bummed I didn’t get to see it in IMAX. The film certainly shows how beautiful outer space can be, but also how potentially dangerous it can become. Director James Gray’s unique perspective presents a near future where space travel is now commercialized and space exploration is easily achieved. The idea of rogue groups also inhabiting areas of space (particularly the moon) is also a great idea.

Ad Astra is very minimalistic, but I think this approach works in its favour overall. The theme of familial relationships is great, and I appreciate how Roy came to terms with it. The film probably won’t be enjoyed by everyone, but it’s still a great accomplishment showing how we as humans might look to the stars for answers when all we need is already at home on Earth.

- A. Shin

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