Updated: Jul 9
As with all movies on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete synopsis of the film, but rather to document how the movie relates to the meaning of life. With that said, be forewarned, there are still spoilers ahead.
Ad Astra hit the big screens in 2019. The movie features Brad Pitt as Roy McBride, and Tommy Lee Jones as his father, H. Clifford McBride. The film was written and directed by James Gray, co-written by Ethan Gross.
Ad Astra is one of those movies, and not surprisingly so, with all the big named actors, one that drew a hefty amount attention online. A lot of websites, e.g., The Wall Street Journal, Life Real, Observer, etc. jumped on the bandwagon, creating articles revolving around the "meaning of life." As a result, here we are reviewing the moving on endev42.
Major Roy McBride is a well-known astronaut and survivor of a space accident caused by an electrical surge originating from the outskirts of our planetary solar system. Unlike most people, after the accident, surviving what should have killed him, he feels nothing; no life-altering revelations, no insights into his purpose in life, no light at the end of the tunnel. His father, H. Clifford McBride, is even more of a renown scientist and astronaut—one that has inspired legions to follow in his path. Obsessed with finding life in the universe, Clifford embarks on a voyage to Neptune—abandoning his family for the greater good, the greater knowledge of humankind.
Space Command contacts Roy and tells him his father may still be alive, even though they had lost contact with him about halfway through his nearly 30-year sojourn, and that he may be the cause of the electrical surges which now threaten life on Earth. On his way to the moon, a stepping stone to Mars, Roy, frustrated by society, thinks to himself:
All the hopes we ever had for space travel, covered up by drink stands and t-shirt vendors. Just a recreation of what we’re running from on Earth. We are world-eaters. If my dad could see this now, he’d tear it all down.
Despite all our potential, commercialization still reigns king.
Roy is instructed to attempt to make contact with his father, and eventually, he succeeds. However, Space Command deems him unsuitable for the mission to Neptune because of his familial relation, and hence, never gets to hear his father's response to his message.
This doesn't stop Roy from going on the mission. Though, it does come at a substantial cost—the lives of three others. Earlier in the film, Roy would reflect on death, hinting at an atheistic belief:
Well, that’s it. I mean, we go to work, we do our jobs, and then it’s over. We’re here, and then we’re gone.
Roy reaches Neptune, reaches his father, hoping for answers—answers on life, life in the universe, answers on why he left, and why he never returned home. He get's none from the famous scientist, from his father. Clifford surveyed the entire universe and found beautiful worlds, vibrant with color and variety, but all ultimately dead—all lifeless. Homo sapiens are the only intelligent life in the universe. This somber fact drove him mad, drove him to kill his crew, his entire crew after they implored him to return home. Clifford failed to find what was not there and on this Roy contemplates:
He captured strange and distant worlds in greater detail than ever before. They were beautiful, magnificent, full of awe and wonder. But beneath their sublime surfaces, there was nothing. No love or hate. No light or dark. He could only see what was not there, and missed what was right in front of him.
Rather than returning to Earth with Roy, Clifford commits suicide. Forcing Roy to realize the importance of the human connection and noting the following in his audio journal at the end of the film:
I’m steady, calm. I slept well. No bad dreams. I am active and engaged. I’m aware of my surroundings and those in my immediate sphere. I’m attentive. I’m focused on the essentials, to the exclusion of all else. 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 love. Submit.
Overall, Ad Astra had the potential, the framework, and the cast to tackle the big questions of life. Yet, in the end, all we are given only a tepid response to nihilism, to atheism, to the vast emptiness of space, to the darkness encroaching upon our humble little circular corner of the universe, and the loneliness we feel as a result. Though in some sense, perhaps that tepid response is the best we can muster, is the best intelligent life can create in response to a meaninglessness universe; if, in fact, that is what we live in after all.
Overall - 5
Meaning of Life Relevance - 4
Uniqueness – 3
Did you see the movie? What did you think?