Ad Astra – To infinity and the depth of the self

James Gray’s movie, carried by a graceful Brad Pitt,
turns a quest of the self and the father into an impressive
spatial superproduction.

By Perrine Quennesson

Reading time 4 min.

Ad Astra


Another sci-fi movie taking place in space, as an opportunity to self-reflect just like in Gravity, Interstellar or First Man ? Yes, Ad Astra happily follows this path, but appears to be closer to Damien Chazelle’s movie than the other two. Here, space is a place of conquest, of exploration, but it is also this mental universe where, alone and enclosed in a spacesuit, we are facing our own emptiness. In his new movie, James Gray —to whom we owe We Own The Night and Two lovers —  recounts the life, in a near future, of Roy McBide (Brad Pitt), a lonely astronaut, separated from his wife, and much more at ease in the void of space than on earth. When an important over-voltage (some kind of galactic short-circuit) puts Earth in danger, he is sent to the far end of the solar system to contact the person responsible. Who happens to be his father, Clifford McBride — also an astronaut — missing for 16 years when he left for an exploring mission to find new forms of life…

a director who pushes perfection
to the limits of clinicality

The father, the son and the infinite space
In Lost City of Z, Gray focused on the journey of a father exploring the deepest parts of Amazonia, in Ad Astra, he focuses on the son who stayed at home. What is absence provoking ? Is it possible to overcome the feeling of abandonment  ? Does the fact that the father left for a bigger cause make it easier ? These issues come across the movie, forever going back to the hero’s capacity of building himself without his father figure. And the possibility to forgive him. The more nerdier viewers will be reminded of the title of one of Jacques Lacan’s seminar : « The non-dupes err » / « The name of the Father »…

Here, Brad Pitt’s character is propelled into gorgeous images of space in order to better reflect on his own childhood trauma of growing up repressing any kind of feelings. The actor, stoic, shattering, at cliff edge, is glorified by the camera of a director who pushes perfection to the limits if clinicality.  But who cares when we are given the chance to see a masterpiece of such strength, opening with a fall that seems to never end. Down until a breath of air after a feeling of drowning. Just like in First Man, space becomes a place where hurt kamikazes can go to isolate themselves and heal from their pain, to reconnect with their emotions and find a new breath. Co-written by Ethan Gross, one of the writer of Fringe (which already discussed this complexe relationship to the father), Ad Astra fulfills the promise of its title and find a place, peacefully but surely, in the firmament of filmmaking.

  • Brad Pitt
  • James Gray
  • Ad Astra

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