Brad Pitt is Out of this World in Ad Astra
The acclaimed director of The Lost City of Z and The Immigrant, James Gray, tackles the sci-fi thriller genre in his latest film Ad Astra, presented at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. The movie is set in the future and stars Brad Pitt as Major Roy McBride, an astronaut who travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his missing father, Clifford McBride (played Tommy Lee Jones), who disappeared in the midst of the Lima Project — a mission whose ship disappeared near Neptune sixteen years after launching. Roy’s journey to unravel a mystery that threatens the survival of planet Earth, will uncover secrets that challenge the nature of human existence and our place in the cosmos.
The character construction in the screenplay by Gray and his long-time associate Ethan Gross, portrays how Roy is capable of holding his nerve on the job — which earns him the respect of his superiors, who assign him a highly classified mission — but still has to overcome the issues left unsolved with his selfish father. While embarking upon his heroic enterprise he gradually realizes that he runs the risk of turning into his dad, by withdrawing physically and emotionally from humanity. Following the classical steps of Robert McKee’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’ the protagonist acknowledges that his initial desire, of saving the world, differs from his actual need, of saving himself by overcoming the fear of intimacy.
The movie utterly exemplifies the concept of exploration as a means of escape. In fact, the title of the film very clearly becomes the emblem of the intrinsic message of Roy’s space adventure. ‘Per aspera ad astra’ in Latin means “Through hardship to the stars,” and Roy’s mission to Neptune is paralleled by his inner journey of self-discovery. Roy always idolized his father, who had always been a distant parent, utterly devoted to his work in space. He inherited his tolerance for risk, but not his egotism. Contrarily to his unloving father, Roy closed off from his wife and chose not to have kids, because of the repercussions that his job would have had on family members. Needless to say Roy’s astronomical and existential odyssey will teach him to no longer repress emotions and close the chapter with space travel, to focus on what awaits for him on planet Earth. As James Gray explained, “I was anxious to explore the fact that as human beings, we’re not really meant to be in space. We’re not designed to be floating around 250 miles outside the atmosphere. We’re not built for that, and we’re never going to be built for that. And that is going to have a cost.”