Ad Astra is a new existential space epic about the nature of humanity, the meaning of knowledge and the relationships we forge with ourselves and those around us. It is a deeply meditative film that strives for exacting verisimilitude in depicting the vastness of space and realistic near-future technology. But perhaps first and foremost it is a movie that has given birth to non-stop Ed Asner jokes on Twitter.
If you are remotely familiar with the work of art-house director James Gray, you know that he likes to make films about weighty philosophical issues. His previous film, The Lost City of Z, was based on the real-life expeditions of early 20th century explorer Percy Fawcett and his attempts to uncover some deep human mysteries in the Amazon. Starring Charlie Hunnam and also produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B It was a good, languid film that dove into very complex issues of knowledge, existence and the human compulsion to discover unknown things even at the cost of one’s own life.
Ad Astra picks right up on those same themes, but extends them from the Amazon and into space. It also swaps out Charlie Hunnam for his older American uncle, Brad Pitt. The film is going for the kind of big, immersive space imagery of Gravity mixed with the heady philosophical questions of Terrence Malick. Do Gray and Pitt succeed in their grand ambition? I have no idea, because I was pretty wasted when I watched it.
Let me the set scene, briefly. It was 2 PM on a Saturday afternoon here in Bali, and my mother-in-law and I were meeting with a chicken supplier. In an attempt to get a lower price on chicken, we got a few big bottles of Bintang beer and started drinking together. Did we get a better price on chicken? I don’t know, but we got a good price on beers and drank a lot of them! Before I knew it, the old man who dropped his teeth in the drain at the gym the other week was in the shop along with some bottle-men who took away all the empty bottles for 800 rupiah a pop. It was at this point that my wife suggested we see Ad Astra and I enthusiastically agreed, for is there any better time to contemplate the bigness of life and the universe than after you have consumed 3 liters of beer?
We settled in to our seats, and I watched as little space-man Brad Pitt bounced around the screen and thought to myself, this looks OK. Then the film jarringly jumped forward in time and suddenly Tommy Lee Jones was in it dressed in space pajamas and there was, like, a big fire. I turned to my wife to ask what she thought about this time jump, and found that she was staring at me in what I would describe as a very hostile manner. It was at this point that she explained to me that I had been asleep for most of the film and apparently started snoring quite loudly. She was not terribly pleased.
So did this film succeed in underlining big themes of human exploration, the quest for knowledge and the way our relationships shape our lives? I have no idea. But it certainly shaped the way one man’s wife saw him in a movie theater in Bali while he snored loudly through most of it.