Ad Astra (Latin for ‘To the Stars’) is a 2019 American science fiction film produced, co-written, and directed by James Gray. Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland.
Ad Astra has a simple enough plot. Astronaut Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) goes into space in search of his lost father – famed pioneering astronaut H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) – whose experiment (The Lima Project) threatens the Solar System.
Acclaimed filmmaker James Gray and Pitt’s star power have elevated Ad Astra‘s basic space opera premise into heady Oscar-worthy territory. Does it deserve any of the hype?
The story is very straight-forward with hardly any twists and turns. What saves Ad Astra from two hours of tedium are the sophisticated production values, Pitt’s impressive performance and the underlying themes.
Ad Astra is an allegory about isolation – about how human beings isolate themselves from each other and live within their own minds, apart from family and friends.
This exploration of mental health lies in the character study of Roy McBride and in the incessant screen focus on his emotional state and the psychological risk he might pose to the mission, which is the priority at all times.
All the supporting characters are cyphers and are purposed to highlight McBride’s responses which gives Ad Astra a surreal alienating vibe, as if the film exists only within McBride’s waking dream.
This lack of reality – despite the best attempts of visual effects and the high quality production work – removes all tension from the film, its dreamlike quality working against the critical suspension of disbelief.
This is not to say that Ad Astra fails as an engaging film. Once one gets into the intent and purpose of the narrative, it’s not too difficult to get sucked into McBride’s journey, even if the denouement is trite and crassly sentimental.
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