As we continue to look to outer space, there’s no better time to watch Ad Astra

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Brad Pitt on the movie poster for Ad Astra

As SpaceX and NASA continue to launch rockets and plan for landings on the moon and Mars, America’s eyes increasingly gaze skyward. While we look towards the future of space exploration, there’s no better time than now to revisit the 2019 movie Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt. The movie makes use of space travel in the near future as a frame for a story about human nature and the development of the main character. It’s important to note that Ad Astra is a slow, character-driven movie with amazing visuals, not an action-packed thrill ride. It’s mainly a journey to the outer edges of our solar system, interspersed with sequences of action such as an airless battle on the moon and a failed rocket landing.

The movie starts off with the main character, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), preparing to make repairs to a spindly communications tower reaching into the upper atmosphere. He smiles and interacts with his co-workers at the top of the tower, yet inside he is only concerned with the task at hand and is completely disinterested. He’s cold and distant, unable to make real human connections. His job is to fix a malfunctioning robotic arm, and as he climbs down he reflects how he understands space more than people, and he feels comfortable miles away from Earth below. As he prepares to descend to the arm, a blue flicker fills the screen and without warning, the station experiences a massive power surge. Electrical explosions fling his fellow astronauts off the side of the tower towards the earth below, and his radio is filled with the sound of those in the control tower screaming. He disconnects from his line and moves to cut power, but he jumps off the tower as the station is destroyed above him. He struggles to maintain consciousness as he spins towards earth, and barely manages to land with a parachute punctured by debris.

It’s a very well made film with incredible visuals, but it’s a slow burn and you shouldn’t go into it expecting a thriller all the way through.”

— Flint Frohman

It is later revealed that what occurred was deemed ‘The Surge,’ and to stop it he must travel to Mars to deliver a message to his father (who was presumed dead years ago) via long-range communication. His father was part of the Lima Project, a manned mission orbiting Neptune that ended up failing, with everyone presumed dead. But the Lima Project is the source of The Surge, and it threatens all life on Earth. What ensues is a journey from Earth to the outer solar system, using the idea of space and isolation as a greater analogy for McBride’s inability to connect with other humans, and ironically the further from Earth he gets the more human he becomes.

McBride needs to brave extreme situations throughout the movie, such as being harassed by pirates on the moon, incompetent crew members, and total isolation for months on end. McBride’s narration indicates his disgust with the spread of consumerism and cheap commercialism to space, remarking that his father would tear it all down if he was there to see it. This plays into a larger theme that advancing deeper into space won’t allow us to solve our problems, and that we must look back towards Earth and into ourselves to solve human problems. McBride endures extreme duress and suffering in his attempt to find his father and resolve his issues with him, yet never took the time to consider their past relationship or move beyond his problems with him. The movie ends up being a story about the nature of humanity, and how that path to ‘solving’ problems can end up being a distraction. It’s a very well made film with incredible visuals, but it’s a slow burn and you shouldn’t go into it expecting a thriller all the way through. The film brings forward interesting ideas to keep in mind as we push further into our solar system and beyond.