Ad Astra

Writing MovieWRONGS

By Jim West

Ad Astra

Directed by James Gray

Written by James Gray and Ethan Gross

The allure of space seems to captivate directors and writers alike to create stories that portray the doom of planet earth if we do not go to the stars.  Ad Astra is Latin for “To the Stars”, and in that I feel they missed the pivotal moment of the film to capitalize upon that phrase.  At its core, this is a film about emotional attachment/detachment on a human level, and whether it is between a husband and wife or son and father, it is permeated throughout the film from beginning to end.  Some fantastic cinematography at work here, but story wise this films needed so much more.

Here comes the spoilers.

Brad Pitt plays, Major Roy McBride, who is the son of famous astronaut, H. Clifford McBride.  Roy is on a spacewalk on the international space station when an energy surge from space knocks the station out of orbit and it comes crashing down to earth.  Roy miraculously survives the fall.  This may seem unbelievable, but with recent feats by the daredevil Felix Baumgartner who jumped from the edge of space and survived is very plausible for this future world the film is set in.  Roy wakes up from the accident and is briefed in secret about the source of these energy surges.  The U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM) informs him that they believe his father is still alive from a lost mission that presumably failed years ago. Roy believed his father to be long deceased.  This begins to serves as an emotional wrinkle for the stoic and calm Roy.  Roy has served his country extremely well under pressure given his lack of emotion.  We are shown brief clips of him and his past with his wife and then clips of him and his childhood.  Throughout the film he becomes more and more overtaken by emotions he long buried and this comes to play somewhat in the film’s plot.

SPACECOM sends Roy on a highly classified mission to reach the Mars communication outpost, which has not been affected by the surges, in attempt to contact his father in hopes that the father would respond to his son.  After several challenges involving attacks by lunar space pirates, and loss of personnel along the journey, Roy does make it to Mars and slowly begins to come apart emotionally when he discovers his father is indeed alive.  Roy escapes the outpost and sneaks unto the spaceship which has been ordered to find his father’s ship and destroy it. 

Roy inadvertently has to disarm and eventually kill the crew who attack him as they perceive he is trying to interfere with their mission.  Roy continues onward till he eventually finds his farther and discovers his father’s crew had tried to mutiny against him to go back home.  His father also being so detached emotionally from his family wanted to search the cosmos for intelligent life which was the purpose of his mission.  The crew who mutinied caused the ships engine to malfunction and this is what was causing the surges that were impacting earth.  Roy sets charges to destroy the ship and bring his father back to earth.  Yet his father ends up committing suicide in space by de-tethering from Roy while outside on a spacewalk to transport to the other ship.  This is where I feel the film could have done something different.  Roy already lived his life detached.  Detached from his wife, detached from emotions and always making the choice based upon science and the mission.  I would have written that Roy reacting to his father’s death, coupled with the realization for the chances of reaching earth were astronomical (pun intended), would then look at his father’s work so far and have a moment to make a choice.  He then would transmit his father’s work back to SPAECOCM and then proceed into deep space to continue the mission his father couldn’t finish.  That is the ending this film needed.  Embracing the detachment is where I felt the character would find purpose and fulfill a cause greater than himself.  Instead the film delivered a sugar coated Hollywood ending and this is why I felt the film missed an opportunity to be different and detached from the emotional fare we typically get served by the need for happy endings.

Thanks for reading Writing Movie ‘WRONGS’.   

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