Ad Astra (2019) – To Seek an Empty Answer in Space

From its marketing, “Ad Astra” was the worse. I can say that this is a clickbait movie. But, this isn’t the first time where a studio used the same tactics. You can see it in “Drive” and “Nightcrawler“. Both trailers look like racing, action, with so many intense movies to it. But, you didn’t expect that because you watched a film about a character study. The same with “Ad Astra”. This isn’t science fiction or space movie. Instead, it’s a combination between “Solaris”, “Apocalypse Now“, and “High Life” about an expanded relationship issue between father and son. That’s it, I just summarized the actual premise of “Ad Astra”. But, does this movie talk about the distant relationship between child and father?

“Ad Astra” is a philosophical film about fantasy besides science fiction. The expanded universe in this movie is similar to “Apocalypse Now” where you don’t watch a war movie. Instead, you witness how our protagonist slowly changes after descending into the horror of war. Similar to “Apocalypse Now”, the protagonist in “Ad Astra” searches, going from planet to planet, only to find the person he loves. The more the protagonist is looking, the more he knows what he is looking for, what he is getting, and what his true purpose is.

Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) just wants to find out the truth about his father. His father had first become a great astronaut but had long disappeared on a mission to find the existence of unknown creatures. His father has disappeared since Roy was a kid and he was nothing for it. In a disaster at the orbital border, which is one of the best spectacular and good-looking visuals I have seen for years in sci-fi movies, Roy learns that his father is still alive. His father has long been on Neptune. A conspiracy arises when his father sends a signal by causing the electric field to surge into Earth. But, no one ever knew that, nor did Roy.

Roy still has many questions, personally, to his father, about their relationship with himself, why, how, and so on. For James Gray, directing a science fiction story outside of numbers with a personal story isn’t easy. Not to mention, you have to make it as epic as possible. I know it’s a cliche word but “Ad Astra” is a good movie with so many layers. The gorgeous visuals, as if you didn’t watch a space movie but you feel like you were in an empty, cold, and alone world.

This is also a fantasy movie about humans. On the other hand, “Ad Astra” has many vibes in specific scenes. There is a scene in the Moon sequence, with beautiful shots on it, which reminds me of “Mad Max”. There is a scene that involves a wild animal too, no spoilers, which reminds me of “Alien”. This movie borrowed a lot of influences from other films as well, not just science fiction as well. Scientifically and realistically, this film might be ridiculous to some people but the contemplation and narration of the protagonist are quite full of dilemmas.

The score and sound are eerie but at the same time full of emotions. The buzzing and deep sound as if you were in the water. The sound of the technology, the rocket, and the explosion, every sound shapes and amplifies certain atmospheres. Miraculously, you never think that outer space is a horrible place. It’s a place you never imagined is different from science fiction films in general. The representation of space in this film is empty. Fantasy, planets, and galaxies suddenly became gloomy. You feel like you’re just watching a 123-runtime movie with nothing.

We follow the story from Roy’s perspective with his narrative, just like “Apocalypse Now”. We only see what the protagonist sees, what the protagonist feels, and what the protagonist does. Brad Pitt wraps all elements of visuals and characterizations. He creates another character again after became a stuntman in “Once Upon a Timeā€¦ in Hollywood“. He was making it so evaporate into the layers. This is a slow-burn movie as well and just never expect a film about space let alone blockbusters. The beautiful movement of the images, stronger than you just want to sleep.

The film also, in addition to the relationship between father and son, explores the masculinity of the protagonist. When the family is more important than work and when pretending is better than being real; For Roy, displaying an outside persona is cool because astronauts are above all. It’s more like a delusion from someone who is always stable and aware of how he is now. And once again, I originally hoped that this would become a space psychology film and more focused on the protagonist. It’s about loneliness when other people are nothing compared to the person you love. And that’s how Roy feels short. It’s not a heavy movie and the philosophy element is so subtle.

The movie becomes like the cliche road trip movies when it comes to the climax. I originally thought that the ending was so anti-climax, like most of the Coen brothers films I watched. The protagonist learned a lot about the journey he went through and some people still love him, not just his father. It makes everything center on Roy only because this movie explores the protagonist’s dilemma. This is also the first time that exposition and chemistry are explicit, unlike previous scenes where the narration is the benchmark for the story.

Roy’s voice-over is always heard from beginning to end like the first sequence of the movie. Like the protagonist who asks lots of questions, we also like that where everything is very random, full of ambiguous, and too much information we have to absorb. The movie guides you with gorgeous and beautiful visuals. But, there is no clarity of all. I like concluding a film with my interpretation but this movie is very difficult to be ambiguous or just a film about the relationship between father and son. That’s why this movie is mixed with a variety of positive and negative reactions.

“Ad Astra” is pretentious in some parts but is so contemplative when it comes to layers even though it is only a film about road-trips and long-distance relationships. The splendor lies in the number of stunning visuals. Some scenes seem to be like a tribute and I also think that James Gray seems to do it reasonably. If you want to find a science fiction and space movie, this isn’t for you. The space element sense stands out but not for everyone as well if you didn’t stand enough with a slow-burn type of movie. Until now, the feeling of emptiness still filled me. There is loneliness, solitude, and isolation watching this film. It’s a dilemma, dude. It’s a dilemma.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

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