Visually, Ad Astra is truly spectacular (thanks to Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography and the VFX-team). The vibrant colour palette of several celestial bodies and some genuinely inventive tracking shots, made me stare at the screen like I was in some sort of trance. Most of the space scenes are silent – since “no one can hear you scream in space” – accompanied by Max Richter’s mellifluous score. The world building is also one of the more interesting aspects, which made me interested in seeing more of the “near future” as presented in Gray’s mind. Applebee’s on the moon? The story takes us to different places and has the ability to suck us in, but never quite manages to do so.
That’s where the story comes into place. Narratively, the synopsis sounds like a wild adventure beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, but don’t be fooled by all of that, this is a drama. McBride clearly got over the supposed death of his father, by becoming one of the best astronauts, hereby disregarding his wife (Liv Tyler fans – like myself – will be disappointed). Discovering his father wasn’t dead after all, daddy issues arise and this is basically what the entire film is all about. We hear Pitt narrating his character’s thoughts, sounding philosophical in a sometimes too comically serious way.
Nostalgia comes from the Ancient Greek word “Nostos” which describes the Hero’s return from his/her odyssey. Longing for that ever-elusive, out of reach meaning of “home”. It unifies us all. And it is a powerful theme, and it is wielded with such effect by Gray.
Let me first say that Ad Astra will be divisive, and certainly not for everybody. That being said, this film was unique and truly moving. It follows Pitt (in a performance of a lifetime) battling a serious attachment disorder, with the most gorgeous and awe-inspiring setting I have seen in a film to date. It turns the “travel the galaxy to save son/father/mother/sibling” trope on its head, and teaches us how to deal with and overcome the nihilistic viewpoint that our destiny and meaning has to be “out there”.
The biggest flaw with the film, though, is that the first third is very exposition heavy. Several scenes at the beginning were filled with characters discussing complicated scientific jargon and plot points that went nowhere, and this unfortunately caused things to drag on for unnecessary amounts of time. While this film may prove off-putting to casual audiences, anyone with a penchant for thinking person’s sci-fi (along the lines of Interstellar and Arrival) should find plenty to enjoy.