The astronaut Michael Collins was the third member of Apollo 11 – the member that didn’t get to walk on the moon, the member that, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin visited the lunar surface, was left alone to circle the moon by himself. Collins explained the feeling of that isolation by saying, quote: “ I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”
Brad Pitt’s new movie, Ad Astra, reminded me of that famous quote. The movie tells the story of an astronaut who feels alone even on earth who is sent on a trip to the far reaches of space to both save the world and to confront his own personal demons. It’s a movie that has proven divisive- it has earned rave reviews from critics and harsh rebukes from audiences. I fall on the side that loves Ad Astra.
First thing’s first, no, it’s not an action movie. Though it does have one of the most jaw-dropping and unique action sequences I’ve ever seen, the high-octane moments are few and far between. That may be a part of why the movie has been so divisive, but I think the main reason it is so divisive is probably because it really sits in that isolation that its main character feels. It isn’t a space romp, it’s really an exploration of being a father and being a son..
In addition to its meditation on family, Ad Astra also boasts a fully realized vision of space. A giant antenna lingers in space, looking for extraterrestrial life and the moon is just a commercial flight away, where visitors can eat at Subway or any of a number of other consumer trappings. It’s a movie comfortable with grey areas- what if space was just another stop on a business man’s trip? Not some thrilling adventure, but actually something… kind of familiar? And what if the man on that business trip was already a lonely man, desperate for answers for all the ways his life went wrong? That’s where Ad Astra takes the audience. And for me, at least, it was a trip well worth taking.
Ad Astra is in theaters now.