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Ad Astra (2019) Review: Journey to the Infinite!

Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) from the movie "Ad Astra" in a space suit, removing his helmet, making direct eye contact with the camera.

Ad Astra takes viewers on a thought-provoking interstellar journey as a man searches for meaning and confronts his inner demons in the vastness of space.

Unveiling Self-Discovery and Father-Son Dynamics in Ad Astra

Ad Astra, although classified as a science fiction film, delves into multifaceted issues at its core: the turmoil of self-discovery, the burdens imposed by societal expectations of masculinity through the director’s lens, the father-son relationship, and subsequently touches upon religious themes. In essence, it utilizes the science fiction genre as a veneer to explore the problems that everyone encounters at times and struggles to find solutions for. Despite seeking refuge behind the science fiction genre, it sheds light on unresolved problems that are familiar to all of us, predicaments we have experienced firsthand.

Roy McBride (played by Brad Pitt) from the movie "Ad Astra" appears teary-eyed and vulnerable in his space suit, conveying a sense of helplessness.

The concept of “self-actualization,” debated from ancient philosophy to the present day, is somewhat synonymous with the idea of “killing the father” in Ad Astra. The character Roy, portrayed by Brad Pitt, attempts to draw nourishment from the memories left behind by his father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who abandoned him and his mother during his adolescence. However, the absence of his father, the most significant male figure he could have looked up to, during his formative years has created a profound void in him that he can never fill.

Although we cannot definitively state that Roy embarks on this Freudian space journey to “kill his father,” his father’s death redirects his focus towards the things he truly wants in life and allows him to find solace and take a deep breath, freeing him from the memories that had kept him stuck in the past. In a way, his father’s death forces Roy to confront himself; this confrontation is something he has desired and sought since childhood, yet he never fully grasped its significance until this event unfolded.

Ancient Influences and Emotional Foundations in Ad Astra

Ad Astra should not be compared to recent science fiction films; its story is rooted in ancient mythology. The “father dilemma,” always lingering as a hidden subject in the early parts of the film, becomes an excuse for Roy’s space journey. When combined with the claustrophobic settings of solitude and self-confrontation, the philosophical problems and questions the film aims to convey reach us with utmost clarity through Roy’s words and thoughts.

James Gray, who serves as both the director and screenwriter of the film, appears to be heavily influenced by Ancient Greek mythology. Considering his recent works that have transformed Hollywood’s lack of storytelling into narratives, it is not surprising to see him embellish concepts such as intergalactic travel and space adventure. Gray masterfully handles this in Ad Astra. The constant urging of Roy’s father for him to let go of himself completely and launch himself into the realm of stars clearly brings to mind the fall of Icarus.

The director constructs the film’s dialogues in a didactic manner, often presenting them as monologues that leave question marks in the viewer’s mind. One of the most important points that can be made about Ad Astra is that it should not be compared to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, as the main stories they draw inspiration from represent different branches. Ad Astra has a stronger emotional foundation compared to other science fiction films, and in this regard, we can see how the director establishes contrasting elements for a science-fiction film and turns Roy’s character into an anti-hero in the eyes of the audience.

A captivating red-framed shot from the movie "Ad Astra," featuring a figure emerging from the distance.

In science fiction films, we are accustomed to the dark ambiance that the “enclosed space” presents, but when the melodies of a genius like Max Richter penetrate that darkness, you can’t help but yearn to immerse yourself among the stars.

Ad Astra teaches us that sometimes, one seeks the meaning of life not just behind the door but outside the confines of our world. Roy was fortunate because he found the meaning of his life while venturing among planets. But what if that wasn’t enough? Does it mean that the meaning of life lies beyond the reach of interplanetary exploration? Perhaps we need to set sail for other Ad Astras.

Humanity’s Quest and Lessons in Ad Astra

The reference to humanity’s tendency to create worlds other than Earth, wherever they go, ultimately making them worse in their quest to build a better living space, points to the insatiability of humankind.

Even in the Ad Astra universe where interplanetary travel is normalized, the fact that everything is still based on money and material possessions indicates that humanity’s mindset of consumerism has not progressed.

And most importantly, we appreciated James Gray for naming the film Ad Astra. Although we may not consider the film excellent in terms of evaluation, the reference to Virgil’s Aeneid in the film’s title impressed us greatly. In this sense, Ad Astra is like an underlying lesson in mythology.

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Last modified: June 13, 2023