Ad Astra, directed by James Gray and had Premier at Venice Film Festival (2019), is the second film this year that has given me a truly cathartic experience. Sliding along nicely next to Midsommar, a tale of toxic relationships, this sci-fi story pits Brad (the astronaut Roy McBride) as the son of H. Clifford McBride (portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones) who was last seen setting off for the Lima Project. The Lima Project was supposed to investigate the existence of life in the furthest reaches of the cosmos, but as deadly power surges hit the earth from the location of the Lima vessel, Roy must contact his father and prevent the collapse of humanity.

On the surface, this may seem like another star exploring survival epic echoing Gravity, but the thematic richness is just as powerful as the fantastic visual images of space that Gray paints for us. Many critics have already pointed out how the film tackles masculinity and abandonment problems in men and they are right to highlight it.

Brad’s reflective narration guides us through his mission as though we’re right by his side taking the passenger seat in his damaged conscious. Pretentious? Maybe … but effective? Unlike anything else, I’ve seen. The harrowing emptiness and vastness of the galaxy compliment McBride’s struggle with his father’s erratic tendencies with smoothness, the gorgeous wide shots frame this journey as both an adventure and a plummet into the depressing unknown.

Also, Read – First Man [2018] – An Exhilarating Experience

Calling Ad Astra a slow burn is a suitable description yet, for me, this more often than not works. Depression doesn’t take the form of fury, it takes the form of nothingness. Brad Pitt delivers a performance that holds back emotion in dialogue; focusing it more on the subtlety of facial expression. As someone who has difficulty letting sadness escape at the worst of times, Ad Astra evoked a sincere emotional response from myself. I can easily understand and accept that a lot of audiences will find this at best a beautiful screensaver, and at worst, a massive eye-roll into ‘male pain’.

Ad Astra beckons patience, and “outer space daddy issues with Brad Pitt” doesn’t sound like the most appealing concept for a grander than life cinematic experience, but James Gray makes it work. See this on the biggest screen you can find, and bring your Dad along with you … and maybe some tissues for the waterworks too.

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