Ad Astra is spaced, man – review

More space ‘travails’ than travels, Ad Astra sees Brad Pitt battle adversity to reach the stars.

What is Ad Astra about?

Set in the near-future, Ad Astra shows us Earth under threat from massive electrical surges coming from the edge of the solar system.

With thousands already dead, ice-cold astronaut Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is enlisted to help. Then he learns the surges are coming from a ship captained by his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who has been missing – presumed dead – for 30 years.

Roy’s mission, ostensibly to save the planet, morphs into a paranoid and at-times delirious trip to reconnect with his father, a man who may be mad, murderous or entirely mythical.

What’s the film like?

Ad Astra is like many movies you know, all wrapped into one. That said, it may not be the film you’re expecting from the trailer.

The beautiful cinematography and detailed exploration of space travel / colonisation is similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are shades too of Apocalypse Now, Gravity and even Armageddon.

That said, Ad Astra is much more an emotional film than a peril movie. It’s memorable and touching, but also quite arthouse and cerebral: imagine The Martian minus the disco music and optimism.

While space exploration is central to the film, the big question really is our eternal search for happiness.

Going further

On the surface, Ad Astra is about a son searching for his father. There’s also plenty of symbolism that could be read as humanity’s search for meaning now that science has killed God. Watch out especially for scenes in which hands touch in the style of The Creation of Adam.

Ad Astra is a men’s movie, in that all the main characters are men. Particularly troubling, perhaps, is Liv Tyler’s role as Roy’s wife, which isn’t even a speaking role.

Ad Astra is a Latin phrase meaning ‘to the stars’, but is more often referenced as Per ardua ad astra: ‘through difficulty to the stars’. Cleverly, this is exactly what drives the film.

For instance, while the plot seems to progress disjointedly, it evokes classical storytelling. Like the heroes of ancient Greek tales (or even Ulysses 31), McBride must battle a series of labours before he can reach his destination.

Ad Astra (2019), directed by James Gray

Picture credit: Joey Csunyo