‘Ad Astra’ Review: Let Yourself Wonder

Ad Astra is a look into a mirror that our culture has needed for a long time. We love to watch Star Trek films or other stories that portray our future as this utopian society.

We love it because we feel like we are seeing what we will someday become. We delusionally believe that we might eventually abandon all of our competitive, capitalistic, primitive, and domineering nature in exchange for equity and peace.

We tell ourselves that that future is full of fast spaceships and one benevolent, peaceful society. Ad Astra is not utopian; it is full of harsh, painfully realistic truths that we all need to confront about the direction of our culture.

What it also has, however, is wonder.

“What I found in this movie was so much more than I expected.”

Starring Brad Pitt, this film is based several decades in the future. There are colonies on the Moon and on Mars. These are not heavily populated colonies, but there are plenty of people that have been born and lived their lives on other worlds.

In this story, earth has become obsessed with finding evidence of other intelligent life in the universe. A mission led by Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) set out for Neptune to try and be able to get a clearer view of the cosmos; the mission, however, had gone silent. Nearly 30 years later, shock waves of antimatter are resonating from where Clifford McBride’s mission was headed, and threaten all life on Earth. Now Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), Clifford’s son, has been asked to try and make contact with his father to try and save mankind. So that’s the synopsis.

What I found in this movie was so much more than I expected.

First of all, I need to tell you: this movie is not for everyone. It is a slow burn movie. There are plenty of suspenseful moments along the way to the climactic finish, but not as many as some people would hope. If you are looking for an action packed science fiction film, this might not be the one for you.

That said, I absolutely adored this movie.

I felt like a young kid walking through the local space museum again, or laying on my Grandma’s front lawn looking at the stars.

When I was a child I would find myself utterly overwhelmed with wonder and awe when I thought about the cosmos. That didn’t necessarily stop as I grew older, but I just don’t have time these days to sit around and think about space.

“This movie exposed space travel for what it truly is: unnatural.”

For the duration of this movie, I was that little kid again. I was that boy lying in the grass, gazing towards the stars and trying to contemplate just how grand — how entirely colossal and immense and unimaginable our universe really is.

Most science fiction movies minimize this reality by introducing loopholes like “light speed.” The reason this movie is slow burn is because the majority of the movie is spent traveling. They are certainly able to move much faster around the solar system than we can today, but it isn’t instantaneous by any means.

Space travel in Ad Astra is hard to watch at times. The astronauts are constantly being subjected to psychological evaluation. Some of them choose to take drugs to cope with extended periods in space (they call themselves “long haulers”). There are resource wars on the moon and territory wars on Mars. The astronaut’s heart rates are constantly monitored to make sure they aren’t about to have a nervous breakdown.

All of this is to say that this movie exposed space travel for what it truly is: unnatural. It felt wrong to see humans subjected to these conditions. It was unnerving to consider people growing up on Mars and living their entire lives in the uncomfortable concrete bunkers shown in the movie.

It was all eerily unnatural.

I won’t spoil the end. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out what is really happening at Neptune. What I will say is that if you watch this movie: let yourself be amazed.

I cannot stress this enough: this movie was beautiful — absolutely awe-strikingly beautiful. Every frame is a painting ready to be hung in a gallery. This movie moves the whole “cinema is literature” conversation forward. It is intentional. It is thorough. It is realistic and painful and heartfelt (and it has Brad Pitt).

If this movie sounds like something you might enjoy, and you chose to go see it, my best piece of advice is to let yourself be overcome with the wonder of space. Let yourself feel like a small, insignificant part of something greater than our brains could ever hope to understand.

“It is OK to feel small in our cosmos because we are.”

Abandandon our egocentric view of the world, and let yourself feel humble. We should feel humble, and this movie helps us get there.

Let yourself wonder.

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