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Ad Astra review: Lonely Brad Pitt in space and also an absent god

In the middle of Ad Astra the crew of a spaceship bless one of their numbers with the words, "May you meet your Redeemer face to face and enjoy the vision of God forever." And I sat down on straighter. Before this scene, I was not sure what kind of movie that was, except for a story about Brad Pitt as a supernaturally calm and emotionally isolated astronaut in the near future.

This prayer and some other important clues that appeared throughout the film frame the picture. Yes, Ad Astra is a movie about space travel, about a man played by Brad Pitt who seeks his father in the farthest reaches of the solar system. It's also a movie about God.

Or more precisely: God's silence.

This is not uncommon Theme for science fiction; Even if it is not specifically about a being called God, science fiction is often about the idea of ​​transcendence, the feeling of being overshadowed by a world that reaches far beyond our naked eyes. It is also not unexplored territory for the prestige cinema. In recent years, both Martin Scorsese's Silence and Paul Schrader's First Reforms have told stories of a God who is silent.

But Ad Astra Perhaps unique in its metaphorical approach, in the way it answers the issues raised, and in the way it deals with those answers.

Ad Astra is about a man who seeks his father, and much more.

Director James Gray's Last Movie, The Epic of 2017 The Lost City of Z was also about an explorer and his son. The way I described this explorer in my review functions almost literally as a description of Ad Astra Cliff McBride (Tommy Lee Jones): "He feels earthy with his ancestors, but he's longing for something Greater, something An experience that defies definition to discover something beyond what its own civilization has produced … It yearns for the experience of transcendence: to move beyond its world and to move it as one to consider larger place, without the restrictions imposed on him by culture and culture religion in which he grew up.

In The Lost City of Z the adventurer is a Victorian and the protagonist of the film. In Ad Astra he will be an astronaut in the near future. As the movie's title cards explain, the ruthless consumption of Earth's resources has forced humans to search for the future of the species elsewhere.

He is only a secondary character. Ad Astra instead focuses on his son Roy McBride (Pitt), who has followed in his father's footsteps and has become an astronaut and major in the space department of the US military. (No, it's not called a "space force.") Roy is stoic and does not fool. He has a heart rate that rarely exceeds 80, and an ex-wife named Eve (Liv Tyler), who, with his inability to drive away, is "present" with her, even if they were in the same room.

  An astronaut in a space suit climbs the International Space Antenna in

The International Space Antenna in Ad Astra.
20th Century Fox

Roy is dedicated to his job, where he is currently working on the International Space Antenna, a huge structure that stretches from the earth's surface, through the atmosphere, into space. But that's not why he's so phlegmatic. We get the distinct impression that he is closing himself to the world and may be depressed. He tells his life to himself – we know his thoughts, but nobody else – and rarely says anything unnecessary. He is on the right track to spend the rest of his days as a reliable, distinguished civil servant.

But then, mysterious electrical impulses start to shatter the earth and destroy the equipment and life on Earth, as well as the outposts on Moon and Mars. Roy gets a call from his supervisor. You have reason to believe that the source of impulses that seemingly come from outer space could be Cliff, Roy's father, who has never returned from a mission to space years ago. Cliff was looking for extraterrestrial intelligence; When Roy was 16 years old, he left the country and disappeared completely from communicating with the earth when Roy was 29 years old.

The military now believes Cliff is alive and triggering impulses from somewhere near Neptune. They think Roy might be able to get in touch with him. So they tell Roy that they want to send him to the US outpost on Mars to get in touch. Roy agrees with an illegible affect to board a commercial flight for the moon, which represents the first leg of his journey.

Ad Astra gives a decidedly modern response to man's search for God

The Brad Pitt has an excellent year between his role as an enigmatic stuntman in Quentin Tarantinos Once upon a time in Hollywood and now Ad Astra . He wears almost the whole movie on his shoulders. Most other characters are short-lived screen characters. in space you are mostly alone, especially if you prefer to be left so. It is a powerful turn for Pitt, in which he can not rely on his considerable comedic skills. Ad Astra is a wonderful movie, but it is certainly a deadly seriousness – and Pitt plays a man whose obvious depression makes him almost emotionless for long stretches. With his jaw lowered and his eyes folded, he draws us into his inner world.

But the most notable feature of Ad Astra is that it exists at all, or that James Gray (who not only staged the film but also staged his screenplay with Fringe the writer Ethan Gross It's beautiful and gives the room a sense of tangibility, but it's not for everyone It's slow and it happens very little despite an exciting space pirate chase even though it's a bit of a world-setting – we see a Hudson News and an Applebee on the Moon, while Roy complains about the fact that humans have gone into space and copied only what they have on Earth – it is not Ad Astra follows the great tradition of many other science-fiction films by questioning the nature of it as it means to be human. And that happens in two ways.

  Brad Pitt sits in front of a microphone in the movie "Ad Astra".

Brad Pitt in Ad Astra.
20th Century Fox

On a More Literal Level, Ad Astra is about an absent father whose absence had a profound impact on the son, and how love makes us human and so holds. It is the story of a son who is searching for his missing father and what he learns from this search. In this regard, it is a worthy sequel to The Lost City of Z in which it was partly about the strained relationship between a parent whose passions took him away from home for years, and the child who dealt with it dealt with his legacy and joined him.

But Ad Astra becomes bigger and more meaningful when viewed as a film about God, or rather, how we see God in modernity. I do not know if Gray meant it that way – and as a wavering but still practicing Christian, I hope his vision of the future is not correct – but what he did is a film about feeling God's absence.

To explain that, I have to talk more about what's going on in the movie. But if you do not want to read on, you should know that Ad Astra is beautiful, thoughtful and meaningful – not an action movie, but a movie that gives you much to think about.

(follow spoiler.)

  Image of a spoiler warning

Cliff, Roy's father, does not appear until late in Ad Astra and even then it's a little hard to tell if he's is real (For most of his scenes, I thought Roy was hallucinating him and I'm still not sure if he is not.)

But his presence hovers over the entire movie. He is an absent but omnipresent ghost, sending down an apparent judgment (in the form of electrical impulses) to humanity for reasons that man can not pinpoint. In desperation for a solution they send his son (his only son I would like to point out that if that does not make him a Christ figure, it certainly comes close) as a mediator, a person who could speak for God, I mean Cliff – for her.

This reading of Ad Astra may seem like the kind of extension a pastor makes in a sermon, except that a Christian notion of God is very conscious in the film, which begins early is called. Spacecraft pilots are asked to protect St. Christopher at the rocket launch (Christopher is the patron saint of travel). Roy looks at old photos of his father aboard the mission where he disappeared. In space, he feels closer to God and feels his presence on earth like never before. There is the above-mentioned prayer of the crew in the name of a dead colleague and the general sense of awe that pervades the film.

There is no one-to-one correlation here. You can not transfer the story of Ad Astra directly to man's search for God or part of the New Testament. But the parallels are striking. And they become particularly notable when Roy finally finds his father near Neptune and then realizes that his father has disconnected himself from humanity so far that he has no interest in coming home. Cliff, in a sense, is serving Roy as he tells his son to "let go" to push him away. Roy then lets go of his idea of ​​his father as he lets go of his real father – and what's left for him is an overwhelming feeling that the only things that make life worth living are not out there somewhere or Neptune Heaven, but on earth, where humans are.

Twice this idea is visually enhanced on the screen. Briefly, Roy and Cliff cling with folded arms in space, Cliff tries to get away and Roy tries to hold on tight. The resulting image is a version of the hand that God holds out to man (at least in Michelangelo's depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel), who is now desperate and clings to God before finally releasing it. Towards the end of the film comes a variation: Roy lands on the ground, and first he sees the door to his ship open, a hand outstretched from above – not the hand of God or of his legendary father, but of an ordinary man. 19659043] In a sense, Ad Astra is a film about overcoming transcendence: the idea that there really is God or something is over so long that we must do everything humanly Keeping to make life worth living is not our search for God, but our love for one another on earth. The meaning is here; it's not out there. We have to let go of our ideas of another being.

Of course, this is not what Christianity or a series of other religious traditions teach. But it is a compelling appeal to think about in our time, when almost all things wonderful can be explained by science, and some people who spend their lives in search of God do so by addressing the real needs neglect their fellow human beings.

  A man in a spacesuit crosses a barren plain a rocket on a launch pad in the movie

A scene from Ad Astra.
Francois Duhamel / 20th Century Fox

That's why I think the motive "Absence of God" in Ad Astra is valuable regardless of your belief system. When we are receptive, we think that encountering a universe far greater than ourselves – either in the solar system or in heaven – can force us to meet ourselves. It is our human weaknesses and failures that we encounter in solitude, our inability to love one another, and the opportunity to overtake our "search for God" that love is a deterrent. Any god who does not want us to love each other is not a god worth having.

Ad Astra is a poetic, almost symphonic proof of this idea, and a breathtaking one. In the closing credits, Gray Tracy K. Smith, the former lyricist, received the Pulitzer Prize for her 2011 collection Life on Mars . This is an elegance for her father, who worked on the Hubble telescope and died in 2008.

One of the poems in the book is entitled "My God, It's Full of Stars" ( Ad Astra takes the title of the Latin phrase for "to the stars"). In it, Smith refers to a variety of myths and stories, from the legend of the lost city of Atlantis to 2001: A Space Odyssey . It ends with the perfect description of the interplay of history, humanity, and space in search of meaning:

My Father Spent Whole Seasons
bowing to the oracle eye, hungry for what he would find.
His face lit up when someone asked for it, and his arms rose.

As if he were weightless and perfectly comfortable in the infinite
night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.

We have learned new words for things. The decade changed.

The first pictures came back blurry, and I was ashamed
For all the happy engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics swerved. We've taken care of everything that's there –

So brutal and alive it seemed to us.

Ad Astra opens in cinemas on September 20th.

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