Film Review: Ad Astra

Ad Astra means to face the stars, the complete quote in Latin means something along the lines of the road to the stars is rough. Either or, I love the title and with star power to spare this movie tells the story of a man searching for his pop, through space.

I can relate to this. I lost my father very young. He is still alive, just vanished into the paradise of holier-than-thou.

Just like McBride’s daddy.

I wondered briefly would it be a better story if Brad Pitt were the father and a younger man played the son, but that probably goes against the leading man ego that Pitt has and it doesn’t matter for the story ultimately because Pitt played the fatherless-boy-grown-up very well.

Ad Astra is constructed in hues that remind me of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The story wraps itself around several travel destinations, including the moon, Mars and far out in the hinterlands of our solar system with Neptune. Each were brutal in their own rights and showed the depravity it takes to survive. Conrad’s story is famous for this theme.

In my opinion, this is both a hardcore sci-fi movie with fantasy elements.

And it manages to weave in some pretty cool stuff that made me feel like I was in on the joke.

In addition to the title, the film explores the Fermi Paradox quite well, which says there may be life out in the Universe but that life is in fact not going to come-a-calling. Enrico Fermi said civilizations run on tenuous cycles, with the distance between inhabitable worlds so vast the likelihood of ever making contact while the tech is ripe- impossible.

We are just too far away from each other and the numbers don’t line up. The Chaos needs to be perfect and chaos has a tendency to only rarely line up. This is so rife for the potential of cult, I think the movie whiffs completely on this world-building element.

The fantasy element comes from Ad Astra’s use of anti-matter to fuel the alien finding tech. It’s why life on Earth is in jeopardy.

Excuse while I go throw up.

The irony was not missed by me.

There are no aliens in this movie, and this is a punishment-for-trying thing the writers tied into the missing-father plot. I mean 100% the man himself who goes to Neptune to try and illicit contact from afar ruins the life he leaves behind. I like it because of its poetry, but in a place as vast as our solar system I think it hits notes of triteness.

This fantasy definition of antimatter is trite in itself and kind of feels like I am digging a bit too deep, but I want things to matter (HARHARHAR) it also feels like a last-minute addition. Something to give weight to Pitt’s journey and give an excuse to the extremes forced to undergo.

I think the story is weakened because of this betrayal of its hard sci-fi roots.

The heart of this movie is a story about loneliness and doing the right thing perfectly at the stake of life and limb. It’s a story about a man whose father chose work over family.

My own dad did the same funnily enough. He picked a career in the military that put him all over the globe and only in my life for three weekends from age nine to 18.

Strangely enough,  this is the first movie in a long while that wanted to make me cry that did not make me cry. Maybe because there is no actual child seeking a  parent’s love and being denied. That’s the shit that gets me.

I cry more now when I see kids longing for their dads because that’s what weighs on my soul, how to do it the best for own little boy. Surprising the fear of failure I feel as a father and really makes me wonder how any man can risk the emotions of a kid to get anything done. As a father and a husband, I am sure I’ll never event the wheel for fear I’d have to stop parenting to do so. Yet here I am writing a blog post on a movie I saw alone.

So thank God for people like McBride’s dad and my own to amke me feel better about my own choices.

And then the movie uses anti-matter to destroy the Earth and I just cringe. It’s so contrived and bull-shitty and I winced every time it was used as an excuse for all the action on screen.

I kinda wish they had made the sun start failing, or going through a huge solar wind cycle or something else, anything else then this scientist on the outskirts of the solar system is killing everyone because he is mad for the search of extraterrestrial life.

This plot is the weakest point of the movie and is what will prevent it from being a classic in the genre.

For Brad Pitt though I gotta say: one of his best. He might just win an Oscar for this movie. Though it’s a long shot. His character handles every situation without getting worked up. It’s a theme I’ve noted in movies like this, The Martian, First Man, and others, be calm and think, it’s the astronaut way.

There is no room in space for emotions. Yet it didn’t help Ryan Gosling win an Oscar or Sandra Bollock, so it likely won’t help Pitt, but we can hope.

I felt the alien premise was left largely unexplored. I would hope for more of a cult following for a mission like the one McBride’s dad undergoes. Finding alien life means something big for humanity. We aren’t special. We are a thing that happens. Would think the father would have a Christ-like following as he fights to prove the Godliness of Humanity.

This is a story about man’s continued reach for the stars and the stars are either God or just old too far away to matter. I want to see the human in this. Maybe that should manifest itself as some kind of spirituality. Maybe that’s just me looking for more then a techy snaweers to life.

Instead, the plot feels manufactured when juxtaposed with the explotation/ touristy elements presented. Humans use the Solar System in the future. It’s a commodity to be stripped and made bare like a buffet that is finite like everything else.

If the point of me writing this post is whether it should be seen or not, I’d say yes, please go see it and support work in science fiction and fantasy as much as possible. It’s interesting to see the themes at play here, of life and death, service, legacy and family.

It’s not perfect, but I think it offers a road map for what can be expected of successful sci-fi for the next few decades.

 

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