Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Kennedy, John Finn, Kimberly Elise, Bobby Nish, LisaGay Hamilton, John Ortiz
OUR RATING: ★★★½
Sci-fi thriller directed and co-written by James Gray. Ad Astra (2019) centers on astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), who travels to the outer edges of the solar system to find his father, who went missing twenty years ago after he went on a mission to Neptune in order to find signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. He uncovers secrets which threatens the survival of our planet.
Our Favorite Quote:
Roy McBride: [doing a psych evaluation on himself] I’m calm, steady. I slept well, eight point two hours. No bad dreams. I am ready to go. Ready to do my job to the best of my abilities. I am focused only on the essentials, to the exclusion of all else. I will make only pragmatic decisions. I will not allow myself to be distracted. I will not allow my mind to linger on that which is unimportant. I will not rely on anyone or anything. I will not be vulnerable to mistakes. Resting BPM, forty-seven. Submit.
Roy McBride: I always wanted to become an astronaut, for the future of mankind and all. At least, that’s what I always told myself. I see myself from the outside. Smile, present a side. It’s a performance, with my eye on the exit. Always on the exit. Just don’t touch me.
Roy McBride: “A self-destructive side.” That’s what she used to say to me. I should feel something. I survived. I should feel something.
Brig. Gen. Stroud: Your profile is certainly very impressive. You’ve done exceptionally well on all the assessment tests. Basic combat, space training. Just exceptional across the board. The rumor is that your pulse rate has never gone above eighty, in any of the spacewalks, skywalks, and even on this most recent fall. Is that correct?
Roy McBride: Well, so far, sir.
Brig. Gen. Stroud: That’s very impressive.
Lt. Gen. Rivas: According to this, married once, no children?
Roy McBride: Yes, sir. It’s dangerous business, as we know. Best not to subject others to it.
Brig. Gen. Stroud: Fair enough.
Brig. Gen. Stroud: Well, we didn’t bring you in here to talk about your fall, Roy. We have something of a highly classified nature to show you.
Adjt. Gen. Vogel: Please have a seat, Major.
Roy McBride: Yes, ma’am.
Lt. Gen. Rivas: What you are about to see are spectrogram images of Neptune. These are cosmic ray bursts, that was taken just eleven days ago. It released high-energy particles that caused a catastrophic power surge all over the world. And that’s what almost killed you. The rays grow stronger as they radiate towards us here, on Earth.
Lt. Gen. Rivas: Major, what can you tell us about the Lima Project?
Roy McBride: First manned expedition to the outer solar system, sir. Some twenty-nine years ago, as you know.
Lt. Gen. Rivas: And the commander was?
Roy McBride: He was my father, sir. The ship disappeared approximately sixteen years into the mission. No data was ever recovered. Deep space missions were halted after that.
Roy McBride: [they show him photos of Clifford] Yes, that’s him.
Lt. Gen. Rivas: Can you tell us how you handled your father’s absence?
Roy McBride: Well, my mother was certainly distressed by it. She was quite ill at the time. But he was committed to his job, and I’m sure it was very difficult for him as well.
Brig. Gen. Stroud: Roy, we have something that might come as quite a shock to you. We believe your father is still alive near Neptune. Where exactly, we do not know. Now, we’ve sent out numerous drones, but obviously, it’s a vast area to cover.
Roy McBride: My father’s alive, sir?
Lt. Gen. Rivas: We believe so.
Brig. Gen. Stroud: Roy, The Surge seems to be the result of some kind of anti-matter reaction. Now, the Lima Project was powered by that material, and your father was in charge of it. Now, we’re talking about a potentially unstoppable chain reaction here. The uncontrolled release of anti-matter could ultimately threaten the stability of our entire solar system. All life could be destroyed.
Lt. Gen. Rivas: Major, we would like you to send a personal message on Mars by secure laser, to what we hope is the Lima Project.
Adjt. Gen. Vogel: The text of your message would be prepared in advance, of course.
Roy McBride: Mars, sir? I’m going to Mars?
Lt. Gen. Rivas: It is the last secure hub we have.
Brig. Gen. Stroud: Roy, we need to find out just what we’re up against here. Our underground Mars base was the only one unaffected by The Surge. And we believe a personal plea, from you to your father, might elicit a response. We can track that signal, locate him, and figure out a way to stop this.
Lt. Gen. Rivas: What is happening out there is a crisis of unknown magnitude. Now, we’re counting on you to help us find him. Are you with us?
Roy McBride: Yes, I am, sir.
Brig. Gen. Stroud: Good.
Roy McBride: “Are you with us?” Like I have a choice. My dad was a pioneer. He sacrificed himself for the search for intelligent life. My dad was the program. I was sixteen when he left, twenty-nine when he disappeared. And that’s that.
H. Clifford McBride: [Roy watches an old message left by Clifford left 27 years ago] Roy, this is a message from your father. I’m coming at you from the Lima Project. Just on our way past Jupiter, and ultimately on to Neptune. I know you have seen that we have excited real and enormous interest around the world, and we are grateful for it. We’re doing big things up here, real big. Namely, we’re about to answer the number one question, when do we find all the intelligent life out there? And we know we will. We’re going to the edge of the heliosphere, where the sun’s magnetic field won’t affect our instruments one bit. We’ll be able to examine any star system for complex life. Never been done before, and we sure are optimistic. I feel your energy back home, and of course, I think of God. I’m overwhelmed at seeing and feeling His presence so close. I love you, my son.
Thomas Pruitt: I’m here to go on this trip with you. Keep my eye on you.
Roy McBride: Colonel Pruitt, good to meet you.
Thomas Pruitt: Actually, we’ve met. It was a long time ago. I knew your dad. We were close, he and I. We started out together, went to Purdue together. He was a brilliant man.
Roy McBride: I know.
Thomas Pruitt: Yeah. And I remember going to the house and seeing you. You were running around everywhere. You drove your poor mother nuts. How do you feel?
Roy McBride: Is this part of my psych eval?
Thomas Pruitt: [chuckles] No, not really. But, yes. I mean, you’re going to be monitored constantly, your mental state, your emotional state. You have a direct connection with the subject.
Roy McBride: Colonel, for what it’s worth, I think my father’s dead.
Thomas Pruitt: Yeah, I was a lunar astronaut for SpaceCom for thirty-one years. And I came to the realization out there, a voyage of exploration can be used for something as simple as escape. I’m telling you this, Roy, because we have to hold out the possibility that your father may be hiding from us. Do you think you’re ready to go?
Roy McBride: I’m ready.
Thomas Pruitt: Alright.
Roy McBride: So many times in my life, I’ve screwed up. I’ve talked, when I should have listened. I’ve been harsh, when I should have been tender.
Roy McBride: [preparing to set off to the Moon, records a message for his wife, Eve] Message. Personal directory. Eve. Hi, Eve, it’s Roy. I’m away again, no surprise there. I just wanted to say…
Roy McBride: I made a promise to always be truthful. But I wasn’t.
Roy McBride: [recording a message for Eve] Listen, I wanted to say, I didn’t want you to go. Delete. Cancel.
Roy McBride: I’ve been trained to compartmentalize. It seems to me that’s how I approach my life.
Captain Lu: [on the commercial flight to the Moon, over the PA] We remind you, the moon is borderless. Many mining zones are disputed territory, and considered to be in a state of war. Please stay within the restricted, safe area.
Roy McBride: ‘on his commercial flight to the Moon] Excuse me? May I have a blanket and pillow pack please?
Female Flight Attendant: Sure. A hundred and twenty-five dollars.
Roy McBride: [arrives at the station on the Moon from his commercial flight] 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.
Thomas Pruitt: [after arriving on the Moon] Our rocket is named Cepheus. The crew will be SpaceCom military personnel. They’re completely unaware of our mission. We have to keep it that way. The launchpad is on the other side of no man’s land. It’s very dangerous, so we’ll have armed personnel to protect us and escort us to the Far Side.
Roy McBride: Colonel, can I ask what the last conversation you had with my dad was?
Thomas Pruitt: It was not very pleasant. We quarreled about my leaving the program. He accused me of being a traitor.
Roy McBride: And if you were to find him, then what?
Thomas Pruitt: Is this very difficult for you, son? This being about your father?
Roy McBride: No. No, my dad’s a hero. SpaceCom’s trying to impugn a man who’s given his entire life to the program. I think it’s despicable. Or desperate at best.
Willie Levant: [referring to the Moon] We’ve been having trouble with pirates since September. Some countries have been giving them safe haven. They’ll take hostages, or go for our rovers. It’s like the Wild West out there, but we’ll get you to your spacecraft. This your first time in a war zone?
Roy McBride: Three years over the Arctic Circle.
Willie Levant: Alright.
Roy McBride: And a heck of a lot of Army-Navy games.
Willie Levant: Well, I guess there’s not much you haven’t seen, right? Well, look, it’s almost a full moon. A large stretch of the Far Side’s real black, so let’s suit up.
Roy McBride: [as they’re being ambushed by space bandits] Here we go again, fighting over resources.
SpaceCom Command Personnel: [after most of the SpaceCom crew is killed] Colonel Pruitt, we’re picking up an irregular heartbeat through your system. We suggest you get that checked out immediately.
Roy McBride: He’s supposed to be my security blanket.
Thomas Pruitt: I’m fine.
Roy McBride: [referring to Pruitt] Why does he still do it? Why can’t he just let go? My dad couldn’t either.
Roy McBride: Colonel, what is it?
Thomas Pruitt: I’m not going to be able to go with you to Mars. But there are things you need to know, Roy. Every minute counts. SpaceCom communicated with me. It is classified.
Thomas Pruitt: [gives Roy a flash drive] Take it. It will put you at great risk. They do not trust you on SpaceCom. But it is crucial…
Roy McBride: [as Pruitt groans in pain] Sergeant!
Thomas Pruitt: You have to go, Roy. Go. Go!
Roy McBride: [joins the ship Cepheus, bound for Mars] They are scientists, and technicians, long haulers. They seem at ease with themselves. What must that be like? They’re oblivious to my purpose.
Automated Voice: [Roy listens to the message Pruitt gave him regarding Clifford] This is an urgent update for Colonel Pruitt, Thomas F, regarding the status of the Lima Project. SpaceCom believes it has detected a possible SOS signal from the crew of the Lima Project. The message could indicate that Commander H. Clifford McBride intentionally disabled all external communications. Under such circumstances, the Commander may have lost all control. If this is the case, and communication cannot be made through his son on Mars, then all other efforts must be undertaken to destroy the Commander and halt the surges. This message is top secret.
Roy McBride: What happened to my dad? What did he find out there? Did it break him? Or was he always broken? My father, the most decorated astronaut in the history of the program. US Air Force Academy, his doctorate at MIT. He promised me that one day I could join him in his pursuits, that he’d come back for me. And I believed him. First man to Jupiter. First to Saturn. And then, nothing.
Roy McBride: [referring to Donald, one of the crew members on Cepheus] He’s scared. Most of us spend our entire lives in hiding.
Automated Voice: [after Cepheus’s captain, Tanner, has been attacked and killed by a baboon] McBride, Roy R. Are you ready for your psychological evaluation?
Roy McBride: Yes.
Automated Voice: Please begin.
Roy McBride: I am on my way to Mars. We answered a mayday call, and ended in tragedy. We lost the Captain.
Automated Voice: Your answer is being processed. Please continue.
Roy McBride: 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.
Automated Voice: Please describe how the incident itself affected you.
Roy McBride: The attack, it was full of rage. I understand that rage. I’ve seen that rage in my father, and I’ve seen that rage in me. Because I’m angry that he took off. He left us. You know, but when I look at that anger, and if I push it aside, and just put it away, all I see is hurt. I just see pain. I think it keeps me walled off, walled off from relationships and opening myself up, and, you know, really caring for someone. And I don’t know how to get past that. I don’t know how to get around that. And it worries me. And I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be my dad.
Automated Voice: Your psychological evaluation has been approved.
Roy McBride: [arrives on Mars and is requested to record a message for Clifford] This is Major Roy McBride. I’m communicating through a secure laser transmission, sent from the communications hub on Ersa Base, North America sector, Mars. I’m attempting to reach Dr. Clifford McBride. This is Dr. McBride’s son, Roy. Father, if you can hear me, I’m attempting to communicate with you. SpaceCom wants you to know that they are aware of the disturbances, and that it cannot be your responsibility. They would like all information about attempts that you are making to ameliorate the situation. They would also like to tell you, they’re willing to help and provide for a rescue mission,
if possible. I hope you receive this message. Over and out.
Roy McBride: They’re using me. Goddamn them. I don’t know if I hope to find him, or finally be free of him.
Roy McBride: [sends Clifford a more sincere message] Dad, I’d like to see you again. I recall how we used to watch black and white movies together, and musicals were your favorite. I remember you tutoring me in math. You instilled in me a strong work ethic. “Work hard, play later,” as you said. You should know I’ve chosen a career that you would approve of. I’ve dedicated my life to the exploration of space. And I thank you for that. So I hope we can reconnect. Your loving son, Roy.
Helen Lantos: [after Roy is taken off the mission] You’re going back to Earth now?
Roy McBride: Can I help you?
Helen Lantos: I’ve only been there once, as a child. I was born here. But I remember it so well. It was beautiful.
Roy McBride: Ma’am, I’d really appreciate my privacy right now.
Helen Lantos: You’re here because of the cosmic rays, aren’t you?
Roy McBride: That’s classified.
Helen Lantos: The craft you came in, the Cepheus, they want me to requisition it for deep space with nuclear munitions onboard. Did you know that? It’s for a search and destroy mission. I am responsible for more than eleven hundred people here, on this base. Now, I need to know. Are we going to die?
Roy McBride: I don’t know what happens now.
Helen Lantos: I know who you are. You’re Clifford McBride’s son.
Roy McBride: Yes.
Helen Lantos: Well, then we’re both victims of the Lima Project. My parents left for that expedition. You and I share a great loss, Roy. Please, just tell me. The Cepheus leaves in five hours.
Roy McBride: You were right. The Surge is coming from the Lima Project. Ultimate catastrophe is very possible. SpaceCom has determined that I am unfit to carry on. That’s all I know.
Helen Lantos: I believe your father is alive. They never told you what happened to him out there, did they?
Automated Voice: [Helen shows Roy classified footage regarding Clifford] Communications has received the following mayday call from the crew of the Lima Project, under the command of H. Clifford McBride.
H. Clifford McBride: This is Clifford McBride, reporting from the Lima Project. I’m disclosing a tragedy. Here, on the edge of our solar system, some of our people have been unable to handle the psychological distress of being so far away from home. They desired to return to Earth, and I could not permit that. And I have to report the reality that they mutinied, committed acts of sabotage trying to commandeer my ship. I was forced to react with equal severity. I disabled one section of our station’s life support system, and without doubt, I did punish the innocent along with the guilty. We will not turn back. We will venture further into space. We will find alien intelligence. I am forever driven on this quest.
Helen Lantos: [after Roy has watched Clifford’s message about what he did to the Lima crew] SpaceCom would never allow their image to be shattered, so they made him a hero to protect themselves. Your father murdered my parents. That monster threatens us all. And now it’s your burden.
[pause as Roy takes in this information]
Roy McBride: Can you get me on that ship?
Helen Lantos: I can get you to the rocket. After that, you’re on your own.
Roy McBride: I will deal with him. I will deal with my father.
Helen Lantos: [taking Roy to the rocket] This is a map of an underground lake beneath the launchpad. You’ll be able to access the ship from there. We’re approaching.
Roy McBride: They’re going to come for you, you know.
Helen Lantos: I know. I don’t care anymore. I need to get back now, do what I can. Good luck.
Roy McBride: [referring to his father] I’m being pulled, farther and farther from the sun, to you. You’re alive. All this time. I must accept the fact I never really knew you. Or am I you, being pulled down the same dark hole?
[after the entire crew of the Cepheus is killed because of the fight between Roy and the crew]
Roy McBride: What have I done?
Roy McBride: Mission, this is Major Roy McBride. I boarded the Cepheus against mission directives. I did not do so with hostile intent. But because of my actions, I regret to inform you, all crew members are now deceased. The flight recorder will tell the story. History will have to decide. I’m en route to Neptune. I remain fully committed to the completion of the mission, namely to destroy the Lima Project in its entirety. I’m switching off all comms. I’m going dark until final approach to avoid detection. Over and out.
Eve: [Roy watches a recorded message from Eve] You seem really preoccupied with your work. I just feel like I’m on my own all the time. I don’t know what we’re doing. You’re so distant. I mean, even when you’re here, I don’t know where you are. I feel like I’m looking for you all the time, trying to connect to you, be close to you, and it f***ing sucks. You know, I have my own life. I’m my own person. And I can’t just wait for you.
Roy McBride: I am on my way to Neptune. The zero G and the extended duration of the journey is affecting me, both physically and mentally. I am alone. Something I always believed I preferred. But I confess, it’s wearing on me. I’ve let so many people down.
Roy McBride: [muttering to himself ] I’m so selfish. I’m selfish. I’m just so selfish. I’m just a selfish person.
Roy McBride: [to himself] Forgiveness is bulls**t.
Roy McBride: Flight recorder, the Lima Project’s orbit is degrading. Its position has shifted somewhat from the programmed coordinates. I will need to take a transport capsule to maneuver around Neptune’s rings. The Cepheus will remain in autopilot while I complete the mission.
Roy McBride: All my life, I was terrified to confront him. I’m terrified even now. What do I expect? In the end, the son suffers the sins of the father.
H. Clifford McBride: [after Roy makes it to Neptune, enters the Lima base and discovers Clifford] Roy? Roy, is that you? I have cataracts, I don’t see very well.
Roy McBride: Hi, dad. You alone?
H. Clifford McBride: Oh, yeah. Captain always goes down with the ship. I’ve been here quite a while alone. I’m trying to stop this goddamn surge.
Roy McBride: What happened?
H. Clifford McBride: My last loyal few tried to escape. And they started all this. They caused a meltdown out there, Roy. We fought, and our struggle caused catastrophe.
Roy McBride: It’s why I’m here. I’m going to stop it. Get the two of us back home, maybe.
H. Clifford McBride: Home?
Roy McBride: Yep.
H. Clifford McBride: This is home. This is a one-way voyage, my son. You’re talking about Earth? There was never anything for me there. I never cared about you, or your mother, or any of your small ideas.
H. Clifford McBride: For thirty years, I’ve been breathing this air, eating this food, enduring these hardships, and I never once thought about home.
Roy McBride: I know, dad.
H. Clifford McBride: I knew this would widow your mother, and orphan you, but I found my destiny. So, I abandoned my son.
Roy McBride: I still love you, dad. I’m taking you back.
H. Clifford McBride: I have work to do. I have infinite work to do. I must find intelligent life.
Roy McBride: It’s time to go. We don’t have much time.
[he reaches out slowly to grab Clifford’s hand, and after a few attempts Clifford finally takes Roy’s hand]
H. Clifford McBride: [as Roy is getting them ready to leave the Lima base] I admire your courage for coming alone, Roy, traveling all this way, following me here. Makes me wonder what we could have accomplished together. But I guess the fates have deprived me of the partner I should have had. If we’d had more people like you, we could have pressed on, could’ve found what we’re looking for. My crew examined all the data, discovered no other life out there. No other consciousness. They quit.
H. Clifford McBride: Sometimes, the human will must overcome the impossible. You and I have to continue on, Roy, together. To find what science claims does not exist. You and I, together, Roy. Because the Lima Project has told us that we’re all alone in the knowable universe. I can’t fail. You can’t let me fail, Roy.
Roy McBride: Dad, you haven’t. Now, we know we’re all we’ve got.
Roy McBride: [after he’s had to reluctantly let go of Clifford into the abyss of space] Why go on? Why keep trying?
[as Roy has flashback to meeting with Clifford before they had planned to leave the Lima base]
H. Clifford McBride: We’re a dying breed, Roy.
Roy McBride: [referring to the data that Clifford had collected on other planets] 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.
Roy McBride: Command, this is Major Roy McBride. I made it to the Lima Project. I am destroying the structure to prevent any further surges from reaching Earth, using the nuclear munitions onboard. I will attempt to return using the explosion as my primary propellant. In the case I do not survive, I’ve retrieved significant data from the Lima. And all efforts should be made to retrieve my craft.
Automated Voice: Trajectory, Earth. two point seven one four billion miles.
Roy McBride: I am looking forward to the day my solitude ends, and I’m home.
Roy McBride: [doing his psyche evaluation after his return to Earth] 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.