Ad Astra Parent Guide
A story that is just familiar enough to be accessible, but is unique and brilliant in new ways.
Parent Movie Review
Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) has been working for United States Space Command his whole adult life, to the exclusion of all else. Following a massive power surge originating from Neptune which threatens life on Earth, he is ordered on a secret mission. Space Command believes that the surge is coming from a former project of their own, titled Project Lima, and led by Roy’s late father, Clifford McBride. Roy is sent to Mars to send a secure communication to determine who may be responsible for these devastating events.
Ad Astra leans comfortably on the traditions of science fiction film and benefits from it. That’s not to say that the movie is unoriginal or clichéd, far from it. It is just familiar enough to be accessible, but unique and brilliant in new ways which prevent it from feeling tired or played out. If it had simply rehashed a movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it would be far less successful. Instead, it makes references to that film and uses them as a jumping-off point to tell a new and compelling story.
There is so much to love here. The cinematography is reminiscent of Kubrick, with its proclivity for colorful and textural imagery juxtaposed with stillness and silence. Long careful shooting yields beautiful results, making this a film you could enjoy even with the sound off. That said, I’d recommend leaving it on. The score is haunting and beautiful, cutting ephemerally through the silence of space. I will admit, the pacing is a little slow, but it is remarkably consistent, which gives it a slightly floaty feel. I think that works well for a story set mostly in zero-gravity.
What especially stands out are the strengths in writing and acting. The script is personal, wasting little time with plodding exposition and leaving it to the camera to show you all the background information you need to understand the plot. The dialogue is instead used to develop characters and advance the emotional core of the film - which is where Brad Pitt comes in. As the film goes on, he becomes more and more emotive, and the contrast between beginning and end is incredible.
Parents trying to decide if they want to take their teens to Ad Astra will want to be aware of the film’s violent content. While there aren’t many individual incidents, the ones which do occur are quite graphic. People are shown with detailed injuries, and I wouldn’t recommend bringing a squeamish person to this film - unless they have a perverse interest in seeing what explosive decompression looks like on a big screen. Otherwise, there is remarkably little profanity, and no sexual content or drug/alcohol use.
As both a sci-fi nerd and a movie critic, this has been one of my favorite movies of the year. If you want a better idea of how this story feels, think Apocalypse Now meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a potent combination, and it works brilliantly. It forgoes Kubrick’s typical emotional sterility and uses the additional humanity to create a story both much darker and far richer. Honestly, you can’t go wrong seeing this. I can’t think of a better way to spend two hours in the dark.Directed by James Gray. Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Donald Sutherland. Running time: 122 minutes. Theatrical release September 20, 2019. Updated September 19, 2019
Watch the trailer for Ad Astra
Rating & Content Info
Why is Ad Astra rated PG-13? Ad Astra is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.
Violence: Several people are killed offscreen in an explosion. Someone is shot. Several people are killed in a missile strike. An individual is mutilated and killed by an enraged animal. The animal is then exposed to space, causing it to explosively decompress. An individual cracks their skull. A person is stabbed in the abdomen. An individual suffocates to death. Several corpses are shown.
Sexual Content: None.
Profanity: I counted five uses of mild and moderate profanity, as well as one use of extreme profanity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None.
Page last updated September 19, 2019
Ad Astra Parents' Guide
Clifford McBride deliberately sacrificed his family to pursue his career, and specifically the Lima Project. How would you feel if you were in Roy’s position? Do you think Clifford’s explanation was adequate? What consequences has that decision had on Roy’s personal and professional life?
Project Lima was engaged in the search for extra-terrestrial life. There are hundreds of billions of planets in the Milky Way Galaxy, and the odds of life existing outside of Earth might be higher than you think. How do you think the people of Earth would react to the existence of life on other worlds? What would you expect those aliens to look like? Do you think you could find or meet them in your lifetime? What are the limitations on travel to other stars?
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The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham centers around William Strickland, a character with many similarities in attitude to Clifford McBride.
Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game focuses on a group of children being trained to respond to an existential threat to the human race.
Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, written concurrently with the screenplay for the film, is an excellent example of “hard” sci-fi.
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As always, 2001: A Space Odyssey is my go-to recommendation for science fiction. Cold, dangerous, and with colossal scale, 2001 is a must-see for sci-fi fans.
Interstellar, directed by Chris Nolan, features a group of people forced to participate in a highly dangerous space mission in order to prevent catastrophes on Earth.
The Martian, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, follows abandoned astronaut Mark Watney as he struggles to survive on Mars until a rescue can be organized.
1997’s Contact engages with the difficult question of how humanity would react to making contact with extraterrestrial life.
Moving away from fiction, Apollo 11 is a documentary composed entirely of footage shot at and around the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing. Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks, focuses on the disaster which crippled the Apollo 13 mission, and the heroism of the crew in their attempt to return to Earth.