Ad Astra (2019)
The Futility of Science and the Importance of Self-Discovery
There may be black holes, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts within its infinite confines but at a glance, space appears calm. The same can be said of Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), an astronaut whose heart rate never exceeds 80bpm. “I will not allow my mind to linger on that which is unimportant,” he promises in a psych evaluation. These words echo over a flashback of his marriage—his wife (Liv Tyler) literally out of focus. This is a man unafraid of external danger yet mortified by intimacy and introspection. His family, home planet, an impending apocalypse, the entire universe all serve as a backdrop to his internal trauma. Much of the film is spent in suffocating close-up shots, giving the viewer little room to breathe. Thus, the story’s emotional impact rests with Brad Pitt. And he delivers. We come to learn each tremor on his face is an eruption deep within. It is a performance on par with his best.
Ad Astra isn’t science fiction concerned with science but rather its futility. Nor is it concerned with accuracy but with allegory. The spacecraft is a womb and the safety tether, an umbilical cord; space is the void of repression and science, a means to escape. Unlike Nolan’s beautiful mess that was Interstellar (seriously, that film could not figure itself out), Ad Astra ventures ahead with a clear vision, finding the same greatness as Villeneuve’s masterpiece Arrival. Mankind’s obsessive pursuit of knowledge pushes us further away from ourselves. We are screaming “where am I?” into an abyss, hoping for an answer. McBride’s journey to the furthest reaches of space and to his father, further still, brings him within, whispering “who am I?” instead. It’s heartbreaking and goddamn therapeutic.