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Ad Astra: The Great Silence Becomes Personal

The film images the fate of those who seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely

Ad Astra (2 hrs 3 min): In a vein reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011), Brad Pitt gives another slow, melodic, and deeply felt performance in Ad Astra.

Thirty years after Clifford McBride left for the frontier of Neptune, to search for and communicate with an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, his son Roy McBride learns that he may still be alive. But it’s complex. Several years into Project Lima, Roy’s father had sabotaged the mission and then disappeared, presumed dead.

But now a series of energy surges emitted from the Lima Project’s antimatter power generator threatens the stability of earth. After an energy surge nearly cost him his life, Roy learns that his father may still be alive and that he may be causing the catastrophic energy surges. From there, Roy begins a journey to find his father.

It’s not a simple, happy-ending story. Overcome with the weight of his failure to discover extraterrestrial intelligent life, Roy’s father struggles to come to terms with abandoning the Lima Project and returning to earth. All Clifford’s attempts to make contact seem to be dead ends after Clifford pushes away into the vacuum of space, aimlessly drifting into the void while Roy returns, dejected, to Earth. The End.

“Wait, what just happened?” was my first thought as I stood up to exit the theater. Needless to say, Ad Astra was not what I had expected. After wandering into the theater with movies like Interstellar (2014) and Contact (1997) hanging in the back of my mind, I was expecting another sci-fi epic about the humbling human experience of meeting an advanced alien civilization that is god-like beyond our wildest dreams.

What I got instead was, well, nothing. Ad Astra and Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity (2013) certainly have something in common. Both are sci-fi narratives about space and the possible personal difficulties that can result from exploring it. But Ad Astra, unlike Gravity, feels like the kind of movie that would have ET showing up at the end of the movie. Only it doesn’t. It feels like the kind of movie that would end in an awe-inspiring existential revelation. But it doesn’t. The movie, quite simply, is about a son who misses his dad. In a world where the divine touch of extraterrestrial intelligence doesn’t elevate human existence to any level of significance, we are left with Ad Astra: a slow, methodical decay of human significance.

Although the movie centers around the relationship between a son and his father, I couldn’t help but think that Ad Astra images the fate of those seek significance in the stars and may well wait indefinitely.

Should you watch it? If “thought-provoking” isn’t your cup of tea, maybe not. However, if slow-paced narratives with Brad Pitt are right down your alley, Ad Astra is certainly worth a watch.

My rating: 7/10

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Adam Nieri

Adam Nieri has interests in philosophy of science and philosophy of mind and he holds an MA in Science and Religion from Biola University. He has background in social media and marketing, photography/graphic design, IT, and teaching.

Ad Astra: The Great Silence Becomes Personal