Ad Astra Defies its Genre

Science fiction movie contains little science

Amaka Nwokocha, Staff Writer

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Ad Astra, directed by James Gray and starring Brad Pitt, is a science fiction film that lacks science. It flies all the way to Neptune and back, but it seemed to me that Outer Space was only a tiny piece of the central plot. The film was actually about family, relationships, and humanness, and just happened to be set in a cosmic future.

Clifford McBride (played by Tommy Lee Jones), a space hero, went on a mission to explore deep space. Years after his disappearance, there are disturbances in the cosmos caused by his mission. His son, Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) goes on a voyage to bring him back. This is all great, but space plays a deceptively large role in this film. The vast majority of the scenes are set in outer space or in research facilities, offices, and astronaut training.

The concept of space as demonstrated by the film is an extension of Earth. There are commercial flights to the moon, and Virgin Atlantic is one of the main airlines. The classic depressing, bustling airport full of chain restaurants and a strip mall is on the Moon. But the farther away from Earth the humans got, the less human they became. On Mars, they wore oversized clothing and seemed detached from their surroundings and their very beings. They spoke like robots and seemed to look directly through each other without truly seeing. Roy McBride had to make the journey to Neptune all alone and went slightly mad during the three-month journey. When he reached his destination and met his father, the man was cruel, unfamiliar, and like one of the alien life forms he had devoted his whole life to find.

In the end, Roy McBride realizes that what makes him human is his place on our very own planet. We are truly alone in the vast Universe, and running away from the only home we have isn’t going to solve any problems, but rather create new ones. He learned from his father that being secluded in the name of progress and research isn’t worth it, and relationships and personal fulfillment is far better than anything else. We can all learn from Ad Astra. Being human is delicate. Don’t take it for granted. 

All that being said, Gravity (2013), directed by Alfonso Cuaron is a better-crafted Space movie that is truly about space, instead of using space as a way to reference other themes (like family and home) that in my opinion, would be best left on our planet of origin.

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