Ad Astra sees director James Gray returning into a grandeur about larger-than-life ambitions and personal bonds. The story shares similar DNA with Gray’s previous movie, The Lost City of Z that follows a British explorer in a voyage dividing the Amazon rainforest to discover a lost civilization; only this time, the setting is in outer space. It’s, after all, the same grand voyage with a different destination, scale, and perspective.
As the title suggests, this is a story about a journey to the star. Set in the near future, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt, Gray’s first choice for The Lost City of Z before Charlie Hunnam) is sent to the outer edges of the solar system in a classified mission to find his missing father, a legendary astronaut (Tommy Lee Jones) and, possibly, stop mysterious energy surges that threatens the Earth and the colony, inhabiting the moon and Mars. Once unraveled, you’ll learn that Roy’s father is the modern manifestation of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam’s character in Z) who travels across the universe to discover intelligent beings. But, who knows Roy’s journey through solitude reaches the edge of the universe and, at the same time, reach his inner core?
The whole Ad Astra is a meditative journey of acceptance and letting go. Guided by Hoyte van Hoytema’s breathtaking cinematography to capture solitary voyage through space thoroughly and Max Richter’s resounding scoring, Brad Pitt leads us in a perplexing space odyssey. The outer space is a surreal and spiritual palette to remind humanity of their place in the cosmos. A space voyage can always be a one-way trip in a blink of an eye; therefore, Dante’s ‘abandon all hope ye who enter here’ might always be a relevant inscription to every space shuttle.
Pitt’s Roy McBride is an enigmatic character. He’s not a blatant action hero. Instead, he’s a soft-spoken loner who had trouble connecting with people. Silence is what makes him comfortable at all times. This distant personality is a consequence of his relationship with his estranged father. That’s why when he accepts the mission, McBride’s journey is always a spiritual one even when it transcends great distance of physical space. Gray envisions McBride’s traveling millions of miles—fleeing from pirates in the Moon, fighting feral primates in space, and flying all the way to the Neptune’s ring—as a personal sojourn to seek redemption and find the peace inside his heart.
Brad Pitt, who also produces the movie, carries out one of his most poetic performances that feels nuanced and personal. His character speaks his mind out with voice-overs, which can sometimes be as poetic. One thing for sure, we can see frailty and fragileness from the look on his eyes when he’s thinking or when he resorts to seclusion. His eye seeks solace and Ad Astra provides one. And, we are meant to follow him for such a quest.
Clocking in at 122 minutes, the whole journey does not feel long. Not only the impressive world-building but each moment in the journey will keep you awe-struck. In Ad Astra, James Gray guides us to delve into Pitt’s most resonating performance in recent years as his character delves into a macro and micro journey at the same time.