“Now we know,” Roy murmurs to his father near the end of Ad Astra. “We’re all we’ve got.” As the revelation sinks in, the solitude and perfectionism that have consumed the astronaut dissipate in Neptune’s orbit. He ventured into the unknown and found himself.
In his newest film, writer-director James Gray examines the magnitude of our universe and our infinitesimal place within it, but in the end, reverses genre expectations. Roy learns there isn’t intelligent life outside of humanity. The people of Earth are all we’ve got.
The vastness and isolation of Roy’s voyage into deep space creates metaphors that inspire self-reflection, challenge the way we regard our fellow human, and achieve a mood that makes the viewer feel meek in a comforting sense. Gray’s drawing from a deep philosophical well, that when scrutinized, extends to both his script and visuals.
Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an experienced military man and the son of Space Communications pioneer, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who disappeared decades ago on a voyage to Neptune whose mission was to communicate with alien life. Roy is introduced as a performatively kind man who’s apathetic beneath the surface, uninterested in humanity and its potential to distract him from his work. However, when we meet Roy, he’s already questioning himself, waist deep in ruminations on the ways he neglected his wife. The workaholic is slowly realizing that his professional ambition is digging a hole in his chest that makes him feel emptier by the day.
For the first time in his aerospace career, Roy’s mission is both technical and personal. He must stop the power surges coming from Neptune that threaten life on Earth, which also means finding his father, a detached figure largely responsible for the way he’s shaped himself, a man Roy doesn’t want to be. His search for a long lost loved one is given meaning in the context of traveling to the edge of the solar system. He is emotionally, psychologically, relationally, and literally braving the dark of the unknown.

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