"Ad Astra": One Man’s Personal Journey to the Outer Reaches of Space

“The near future.

A time of both hope and conflict.

Humanity looks to the stars for intelligent life and the promise of progress.”

-Ad Astra

Are there other beings in the universe, or are we alone? The pursuit of the discovery of life is the overarching question that James Gray’s Ad Astra, a space thriller starring Brad Pitt, attempts to answer.

Ad Astra follows Pitt’s astronaut, Major Roy McBride, as he travels to the outer reaches of space in search of his father, H. Clifford McBride. 30 years prior, Clifford led Earth’s first deep space mission, the Lima Project; however, 16 years into the mission, McBride's father, the ship, and the entire crew disappeared with no communication.

Opening with Roy McBride and his fellow astronauts working on an antenna meant to contact extraterrestrial life, a sudden power surge hits Earth which sends McBride and the astronauts falling to the surface. Anyone in this situation would be freaking out, but McBride is cool, calm, and collected throughout the ordeal.

On the outside, Roy McBride is a cold, isolated, and emotionally distant man putting on a façade to get through life. His sullen voice overs and rehearsed psych evaluations portray a wounded, walled off, and lost, internally suffering man, though. The cracks in his cold exterior begin to melt away when he is sent on a mission to contact his father who is believed to be responsible for a series of catastrophic power surges on Earth.

Roy first journeys to a commercially colonized Moon where he encounters space pirates in a Mad-Max-style space buggy race to get to the dark side of the Moon. He then travels to Mars to attempt to contact his father about the surges, which originate from a region near Clifford's position on Neptune. Roy breaks his strong, manly, “I’m always fine” persona during his last transmission to his father and sheds tears while recalling memories of the father who abandoned him.

Roy’s internal pain becomes apparent as he learns of his father’s descent into madness when he killed his crew for wanting to return to Earth because they had not discovered extraterrestrial life. Roy then voyages alone to Neptune in search of his father and to destroy the anti-matter causing the power surges on Earth. He arrives at his father’s ship and finds an even colder, emotionally distant, and mission-obsessed man.

Clifford delivers a heartbreaking line to his son saying, “There was never anything for me on Earth, I never cared about you, about your mother, or any of your small ideas.” This clearly wounds Roy, but also signals his rebirth as a person as he is finally able to shed the pain and the void caused by his father’s absence.

Roy’s growth is solidified when Clifford tries to persuade Roy to stay with him and continue the search for life, but Roy longs to be back on Earth to correct his mistakes. Clifford believes he has failed, but Roy delivers the line, “Dad, you haven’t. Now we know we’re all we’ve got.” Ad Astra provides an answer humanity may need to face: space exploration may be the real achievement.

In the end, Roy destroys the anti-matter, but Clifford cannot come to terms with his failure and floats away into the dark abyss despite Roy pleading for him to return to Earth.

Roy then travels back to Earth as a new man who is active, engaged, attentive, and aware of those close to him. It’s refreshing to see a film that breaks the mold and shows an emotionally vulnerable man who isn't afraid to show those feelings.

James Gray’s Ad Astra is a stunning exploration of space, humanity, and one’s self. It journeys into deep space and deeper ideals about father and son relationships, masculinity, and human emotion. Brad Pitt’s stoic performance is truly breathtaking and worthy of an Oscar for best actor. Ad Astra pushes the boundaries for sci-fi films through its spectacular cinematography, original narratives, and existential, but intimate themes.

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