James Gray seems to have a thing about fathers and sons. In his previous outing The Lost City of Z, a father left his family behind and travels 5000 miles across the globe to pursue his obsession of finding a city made of gold. We followed in across the world and watched how he could never let go of his obsession despite the toll it was having on his relationships at home.
Ad Astra involves that dynamic as well but from the other side, and taken to an extreme. We follow a son who was abandoned by his father who traveled 2.8 billion miles away in pursuit of scientific knowledge.
When we first meet Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) he’s standing literally on top of the world, working on an International Space Antenna that stretches from the ground all the way to space. Space is where he’s most comfortable, isolated in his suit and perfectly calm until a massive power surge knocks him off the tower and he plummets back to earth. Even through this pulse pounding sequence his pulse never pounds, he famously has never had his heart rate get above 80. But then he learns power surge originated in space and may have been caused by his father.
Roy’s father is now regarded as a hero —long thought dead— and Roy seems just the man to confront him. So begins a journey to literally the other side of the solar system to both confront his father and also to confront his father.
The metaphor here isn’t exactly the subtle. The gulf that can develop between a father and son may as well be a solar systems worth of distance, but even from that distance sons can inherit trauma and pain.
To say much more would be spoiling things but suffice to say that the journey is worth taking. Brad Pitt gives a subtle performance as a man who is so repressed that learning his dead father is alive doesn’t even cause him to blink. As he travels through space to both literally and figuratively close the gulf between himself and his father everything bubbles up to the surface.
The journey is rife with detail as well, from the mundanity of commercial space travel to the danger of moon pirates. Yes, in this future we’ve colonized the moon and turned it into a franchise filled airport, and are also fighting over resources there and pirates riding lunar rovers are a real danger.
As a side note, the lunar pirate chase is a standout sequence.
If all this wasn’t enough, Ad Astra Is just a gorgeous film to look at. One thing that’s clear is that James Gray knows how to compose a shot. It’s also deliberately slow moving, a touch that not everyone will like. But it is one of the best looking films of the year and one and exactly the kind of performance that will probably earn him a ton of nominations. In case it’s not clear, Ad Astra is one you should definitely see for yourself.