One sure sign that Baby Boomers are aging rapidly and as one big lump is the proliferation of “what comes after” movies and TV shows. “What’s beyond the beyond” and “is anybody out there” are just variations on the “what does it all mean” theme. Hollywood apparently believes there’s money to be made in exploring the “are we alone” question and Ad Astra is the latest venture into that existential universe.
The challenge for films that contend with the Big Questions is that you better either have very good answers or at least leave us with private questions that we can’t shake. Like almost all films that take on this admittedly herculean task Ad Astra does neither.
Even the intimate questions in this movie, “what happened to my dad and why did dad do what dad did,” are ethereal but at least we have those answers by the final scene.
In the year 2120 give or take a few decades, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is one of America’s leading astronauts. He’s also the son of Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), a fabled space pioneer from the previous generation. Clifford disappeared on a mission to Neptune some 30 years ago and now may or may not be the source of power surges that are wreaking a deadly havoc on Earth from deep space.
Roy is sent to rescue his father and/or stop the mysterious electromagnetic emissions by any means necessary. The meaning of life and what’s up with dad hang in the balance.
Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones have both been among this country’s most accomplished actors for decades now and small supporting roles from Donald Sutherland and Liv Tyler add to the distinguished aura that accompanies this film.
This is the second movie I’ve seen Brad Pitt in this summer and that’s an uncommon treat. But Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time . . . in Hollywood may actually be working against him here.
Hollywood allows Pitt to show his full range as an actor. He runs the gamut from true-blue and playful to despondent and enraged. He plays the emotionally closed-off character in Ad Astra very well, but if Pitt fans have recently watched him demonstrate the full extent of his range, some may be tempted to take a pass on this flat characterization.
Recognizable if severely inhospitable worlds from the moon to Mars, to Neptune and deep space are created by an extraordinary cinematography that could possibly earn the movie its one Oscar nomination. From a movie-making standpoint its a well-conceived universe. There’s no question Ad Astra is professionally crafted. The talent employed is obvious. The issue is whether the film is meaningful or at least entertaining. Those are matters that are up for debate.
The movie employs a ponderous pace that’s intentional. As to the question of whether life goes on forever, the film-makers certainly make it feel like it does. The tempo makes a mighty contribution to the film’s stark reality and I’m not jealous that I’ll never live to see the world depicted in Ad Astra should that future come to pass.
My problems with the movie are philosophical not technical. There are an infinite number of hypotheses that might explain existence. God in his/her/its limitless embodiments, untold alternative universes and dimensions, eternal reincarnation, the randomness of the physical world, perhaps even the ultimate meaninglessness of existence as it can be understood by human beings are all means by which we try to make some sense of things.
When I realized Ad Astra had no intention of exploring any of these eventualities I kind of lost interest.
The movie definitely has a point of view, but it’s not very enlightening, pretty bleak and in the end even a little trite. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see the denouement coming but when it did my knee-jerk reaction was, “Well that was simplistic and not very satisfying.”
I don’t think of myself as a romantic. I don’t recall anyone else ever accusing me of being one either. But especially in these days of victimization and rage, if you’re going to make a movie about “The Meaning of Life” I’d chose something more edifying than “All we can count on is each other.”
Ed Says 2½ Out of 5 Stars