‘Why go on? Why keep trying?’ Roy McBride
Ad Astra (Latin for To the Stars) feels like a film that I needed right now. I have seen it a couple of times during lockdown and it hits a nerve.
Brad Pitt plays Roy McBride who undertakes a space mission to deliver a message to his father (Tommy Lee Jones) who went missing decades ago.
Directed by James Gray (whose previous film was The Lost City of Z – which I enjoyed), it is set in the near future, at a time of both hope and conflict where humanity look to the stars for intelligent life and the promise of progress.
Roy is a stoic individual, who has grown up in an environment where everything is monitored and assessed. He has followed in the footsteps of his father and become an astronaut, but with this job he must pass and submit regular psychological evaluation tests to ensure he is not emotionally compromised.
The opening scene of the film he states;
‘I will make only pragmatic decisions. I will not rely on anyone or anything. I will not be vulnerable to mistakes’
Roy’s marriage breaks down as a result of his stoicism and he ploughs himself into his work because ‘space’ is the only thing he understands.
During this time Earth is experiencing several surges which are causing accidents and electricity shortages. Roy survives one such accident and it is noted that his heart rate did not change during the event, he is then bought into a secret complex and informed of a mission to Mars. He also learns of his father being alive. Roy agrees to undertake the mission and deliver the message to his father whose spaceship is causing the surges.
The sound effects and cinematography are exquisite in the film, it feels as if I am there in every scene. The effective use of music, such as cutting it out at points and letting the audience feel the impact is intense.
The heart pounding scene on the moon when Roy and the team are ambushed by pirates (yep pirates), is the best moon battle fight scene I have seen in a space related film in quite some time. I re-watched with headphones and it adds another layer.
Roy reaches Mars via the Moon but his recorded messages to his father do not receive a response. He retreats to his room and finally connects with himself and those around him and lets out his emotions at the next recording. However, as he goes off script, he is informed he would no longer be required by the team.
He is then aided by Helen (Ruth Negga) who informs of a space craft headed to towards Neptune (where his father’s ship was last seen) and helps him get on board.
Ad Astra borrows from many excellent predecessors, I saw glimpses of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris, THX 1138, Bladerunner and to some extent Apocalypse Now, with the latter coming to mind due to what Roy finds when he reaches his father (I don’t want to spoil the film for you).
Of course there are some who would delve into the science of the film and claim some of it not making sense, I would say to them that this is a film and not a science journal piece so avoid any preconceptions and enjoy it for what it is.
I felt the pacing of the film is good and deliberate to ensure the emotional impact is felt. It is almost dreamlike, and you feel like you are in a trance watching it.
I also feel this is one of Brad Pitts finest performances. He encapsulates the character perfectly and dare I say his acting skills are best on show here. The support cast is good though somewhat limited in usage perhaps scenes might have been longer and were edited.
This is a sombre film which is both artistically and ascetically pleasing. It deals with a father and son relationship as well as the generational impact that life events can have on families – does the son suffer the sins of the father? Why letting go can be the most difficult of things and why chasing a dream or work can make us miss what is right in front of us.
So, why do we go on and why do we keep trying? Well, because we are all we’ve got.
And I think Roy sums it up in his psychological evaluation test:
‘I’m unsure of the future…but I’m not concerned. I will rely on those closest to me. And I will share their burdens…as they share mine. I will live…and love.