The creativity of James Gray (director of the film “Ad Astra”) dates back to the 1990s. The director who has already attracted attention with his first movie (“Little Odessa”,1994) was awarded “Silver Lion” at “The Venice Film Festival” for that one. “Little Odessa” is a criminal drama about family relationships. James Gray has touched this topic almost throughout his entire career. Events in this movie are manifestation of the tension between characters that are relatives to each other. In “Ad Astra” the director has sought to uncover knot of father-son relationship, that he created between great Maximilan Schell and young but very talented Tim Roth in “Little Odessa”, with the help of the master Tommy Lee Jones and Brad Pitt who don’t really lag behind.
The main hero of “Ad Astra”, major-astronaut Roy McBride is the professional of his work. Even in the most dangerous moments, Roy is in control of his consciousness. At the beginning of the movie, there was an accident at the space station that could have ended Roy’s life, but even at this point he was able to handle the situation and his pulse did not rise above eighty. However, this kind of presence of mind hidden under mask of professionalism throughout the entire movie, is revealed when Roy McBride sends him sound information to reveal his father’s survival on NASA’s secret base on Mars. Staff at the base find out that Roy is anxious and unable to control his emotions. Following this episode, viewer returns at the beginning of the movie at their imagination – once again observing the scene of Roy McBride’s rolling from space to Earth during an accident at a space research station. It becomes clear that icy glance thrown at outside world out of the space-suit isn’t manifestation of professionalism, but indifference towards life, environment, Eve (Liv Tyler) and death. It becomes clear at this point to viewer that Roy’s silence, loneliness, all his senses and insensitivities are the results of uncertainty. Roy travels to space every time hoping to find answer to his questions. He is trying to understand whether his father, who had left him and his mother seventeen years ago for departing to endless space is alive or not?! Maybe, he never really left them?! Maybe, he was not even his father?! Maybe, the image of dad is just his mother’s fable?! Maybe, the father of Jesus is his father too?! … All these questions are strangling Roy in uncertainty between reality and illusion.
The spacecraft that takes major McBride to Mars receives a SOS signal on the way. According to instructions, crew must assist spacecraft from which the signal is sent in response to the SOS signal. But major McBride is against it. Because delivery of the major to Mars is part of the secret mission. McBride states that the ship should never slow down! The idea seems to be inhuman to the ship’s crew, and despite McBride’s insistence, the competent ship captain makes decision – the ship’s captain and major McBride, depart to a research spacecraft where SOS signal was received from. Humane captain is attacked and killed by a monkey, a victim of the scientific experience of scientists. This is a very scary scene. The terrified monkey eats the captain alive. In fact, this scene can be understood as a metaphor for human atrocities. Is nature taking revenge on us, or we take a revenge on ourselves?
By the end of the movie, Roy finds his father, billions of miles away, in the depths of the solar system, in Neptune. Although this encounter gives viewer the impression that son is reunited with his father, later disappoints by separation. Maybe, Roy had encountered not his father, but his own fears and doubts. This separation was also to put an end to those fears. The question arises, do you have to go so far to find yourself?! This unbelievably long journey of the son going from one end of the universe to the other, for finding his father, is a metaphor misunderstanding and distance between humans. The distance between humans is also beyond the stars… A tiny, like a dust creature – a human being – overcoming cosmic distance between himself and his spirit, has helped him find his closest people, that were always there, but he had never notice them before. Roy McBride overcame himself, his fears, his loneliness and Eve-lessness.
In “Ad Astra,” Brad Pitt was perfectly able to live within Roya McBride’s character, the philosophy of this image, his colorless but tedious glance, his quiet silence, and cold behaviour like Achilles.
As for the work of the cinematographer, large format images by Hoyte van Hoytema who is able to see endless space and magnificently big planets in “Interstellar” (director-Christopher Nolan, 2014) are just great. The scenes where father and son McBride separate, the endless space, giant planets, and the loss of two tiny creatures – human beings, losing each other in the light of this harmony are breathtaking. Viewer feels that by transferring tiny people to the lens of camera on the background of space, planets, and giant phenomena such as limitless director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema (and director James Gray) hint at how small humans are – like a dust by all means despite their tensions, desires, dreams, ambitions, desires of control, living, expanding, dying, even loving. In this sense the work of cinematographer can be considered really worthy.
This movie is about infinity and eternity, long divisions between people, endless distances and loneliness…That is about consolidations.