Ad Astra – James Gray’s seventh feature film and first since 2016’s brilliant The Lost City of Z – feels like a culmination for the 50-year-old director. On paper, it looks like his most accessible film to the mainstream. It’s Brad Pitt in space! That’s not a terrible five-word synopsis to pique one’s interest. But there’s so, so much more going on here. With shades of 2001 and, let’s say, more direct rays from Apocalypse Now, Ad Astra is a haunting movie about loss, grief, duty, and finding the courage to let go. (Frankly, I saw an unfinished version of Ad Astra where the effects weren’t completed, and it still knocked me on my ass.)
Pitt plays Roy McBride, a stoic, clinical astronaut who is recruited to lead a top-secret mission in an effort to make contact with his father (Tommy Lee Jones), who not only poses a current threat to Earth, but who Roy assumed was long dead after a space mission gone wrong 30 years earlier. Roy then departs on a journey to find what may be left of a father, who very well may have gone mad. The cornerstone of Ad Astra is the relationship between fathers and sons. It’s a movie I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw it.
But it’s also a movie plagued with rumors about its delays, which, as Gray explains, had nothing to do with the movie and were out of his control due to the acquisition of Fox by Disney. Gray’s quote, “My movie is a pimple on the ass of a $71 billion elephant deal,” is quite a description. Ahead, Gray takes us through, in detail, his inspirations for Ad Astra and why he’s trying to hone in on the most primal of universal emotions.
So I saw an unfinished version of this movie a little over a month ago…
I will say that if you saw it a month ago, then you saw it quite unfinished. I don’t know what you saw.
The effects weren’t done.
Oh my god. I can’t believe they showed the movie in that state.
Well, it didn’t matter because I can’t stop thinking about it.
Well, even so. Anyway, who cares? You saw it, you can’t stop thinking about it. That’s good.
It’s not like I was asking why Brad Pitt was wearing a harness.
Well, I mean, you joke about that – and basically you should be joking about it – but I’m going to tell you that, because it resists this kind of movie. There’s no way that does not take you out of a movie, because I would watch the visual effects come in and I would be like, “Oh, wait a minute. That’s what that is? That’s amazing.” And I’m the director! I’m the person that ordered it up! You must have looked at that movie and thought, “What the hell’s going on?”