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"Ad Astra" - A Space Odyssey Towards Humanization

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

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Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an effortlessly cool space-cowboy-lone-wolf locked in the body of an astronaut working for the government. Roy has virtually no emotions, his pulse rate never exceeds 80 beats per minute even in life-threatening situations and is "charismatic" enough to be considered human.

Roy is also a possible candidate to save humanity, which is at risk of becoming extinct due to strange power surges that are hitting the solar system.

For how cool Roy is, his life is marked by the epic figure of his father, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), a famed astronaut whose feats led him to lead the so-called "Lima Project", which was created 26 years ago to look for intelligent life in the confines of the solar system. Clifford is idolized on Earth and considered a hero.

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However, communications with the great Lima Project have been silent for more than 10 years and, what is worse, they seem to be the origin of the power surges that are threatening humanity. The government won't confirm it, but apparently, Clifford is still alive and could be key to stopping the menace.

Because of his abilities and his blood connection with his father, Roy is asked to travel to Mars to try to make contact with him, and thus help prevent the extinction of humanity.

The paradox, of course, is that Roy is perhaps the least human of humans. He has practically no reaction when his wife leaves him, or when he learns that his father is possibly still alive, or even when he almost died in an accident caused by a power surge, in which he becomes full-blown Baumgartner-Red-Bull-supersonic- freefall. And paradoxically, that's what makes him qualify for this crucial mission.

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During the odyssey, Roy gradually starts to understand humanity more, while paradoxically seeing his worst side. At some point, he has a not-so-symbolically-subtle fight against a violent and primal escaped baboon test subject (which, if you didn't get it, represents the animal condition of the human being), which is literally destroying other humans. Roy also witnesses how wild capitalism has ravaged the moon. More importantly, he also slowly realizes that his father has stopped being a hero, to practically become a demented obsessed antagonist.

The message of Ad Astra could be perhaps the most technophobic ever narrated in the history of artistic, cinematic sci-fi. But, incredibly, and here is the reason why Ad Astra stands out, that technophobia is also incredibly optimistic.

Interestingly, its technophobia doesn't come from a concrete fear of a machine rebellion, or an apocalyptic escalation of pollution. Ad Astra suggests that the vastness of the universe has made a dent in our ego, and has forced us to seek answers in the unknown, which in turn can be terribly alienating.

In this regard, it could be said that thematically Ad Astra would be the almost perfect counterpart of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, who repeatedly invites us not to settle for our soil, stop feeling like "caretakers" and always "look up", because our natural condition is to be explorers.

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In Ad Astra, that obsession with finding non-human intelligent life becomes practically dogmatic. A matter of blind faith. Clifford, leader of the "Lima Project", doesn't want to hear reasons from the rest of the crew, who want to return home to their earthly lives, after years of finding NOTHING in the stars. For Clifford, science and exploration are his life, and anything else is considered a failure. Therefore, after the crew's mutiny, Clifford decides to turn off their life-support systems (their lives, if they are only going to spend it on Earth, aren't even considered life for Clifford's standards) and to remain alone at the station, clinging to the possibility of finding extraterrestrial life.

Of course, the paradox is that life is what continues to happen (especially in Earth, with his son), while Clifford seeks another type of life unknown, completely alien to his nature and even possibly non-existent.

His obsession has ended not only blinding the life of his crew (and the possibility for himself of returning to normality), but even endangering ALL human beings, because due to mutiny (which was basically an argument for different life concepts), the ship's antimatter power source has been damaged, and that's what causing the surges.

After years of isolation, Clifford is visited for a form of life: His son.

In the climax, Roy decides to destroy the Lima Project and with it, save humanity. Apparently, and after a dry but convincing reunion, he convinces his father to return to earth together. But Clifford, lost in his obsession, no longer has a life to return to. With just his son's grip preventing him from drifting into space, Clifford begs his to literally let him go. That "let me go" resonates in Roy as perhaps no other clinical psychological evaluation in his life.

Roy lets his father go, figuratively and literally. His father's shadow has moved away in such a way, that Roy ends up completely rewired. The pedestal is broken. He can now live his own life.

The data extracted from the space station reconfirms Clifford's fears. Apparently, the only source of intelligent life in the universe (at least as far as human eyes and abilities can see) resides in humans.

With this information, and with the experience of the "letting go" of his father, Roy begins to reconnect with his emotions and, therefore, with the things he loves and appreciates on Earth. Roy begins to show emotions and allow himself to love those closest to him.

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Roy's optimism happened because he has finally humanized his father. He has accepted him in all his dimensions. He was flawed, as all humans are. He's no longer the larger-than-life hero who unconsciously he must overcome. Roy always shone with his own light and not because of the need to be visualized under his father's shadow. And it is until now that he realizes that.

In that same process, Roy not only achieves the classic overcoming of the "daddy issues" trope but finds a newfound love for humanity in general. We are flawed, yes, but we are a miracle, considering the vast and solitary condition of the universe. Even our shortcomings are beautiful, contradictory, and salvageable. So, to display emotions is the least we can do to celebrate our unusual and precious humanity.

Roy finally became a human adult. His monologue / psychological evaluation, now about to become an actual reality, shows an enormous love for life, with everything and its failures:

I’m unsure of the future but I’m not concerned. I will rely on those closest to me, and I will share their burdens, as they share mine. I will live and I will love.

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Movie Details

Title: Ad Astra

Release Year: 2019

Director(s): James Gray

Actors: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Liv Taylor, a.o.

© 2020 Sam Shepards