I wasn't even in their space force anymore

If you’re like me, you have spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like if Apocalypse Now took place in outer space.  Maybe it was mostly just me and James Gray (Lost City of Z) that wondered that. 

Ad Astra is the answer to that question. The film stars Brad Pitt (Fight Club, Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood) as Roy McBride, as an elite astronaut known for always keeping his calm no mater what. In the opening scenes of the film we see him fall from an antennae that reaches into the stratosphere. During the incredibly long fall that he stays in control of himself and his heart rate never goes above 80 BPM. Roy is one cool operator.

The film takes place in an unspecified “near future”. The earth is being hit by some sort of mysterious surges that seem to be coming from Neptune. These surges have a deleterious effect on the power grid and we are told that they threaten all life on the planet. We also learn that Roy’s father, Cliff (Tommy Lee Jones) may be responsible.

Cliff was part of the Lima project, which set out for the edge of the heliosphere thirty years earlier. Lima was meant to search for extra-terrestrial intelligence beyond our solar system. Unfortunately, the entire ship vanished near Neptune and was never heard from again.
It seems that Cliff may somehow ne responsible for the surges and Roy is dispatched to a station on Mars, where he can send a message via laser in an attempt to contact hos father and get to the bottom of what’s going on.

Roy undertakes a strange journey through space, basically hitching a ride on someone else’s craft, not unlike Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now. Also like Willard, Roy will talk to us in voice over explaining the events that we see. The trip will be punctuated by weird, often surreal stops and side journeys that illuminate the absurdity of the situation.

Along the way we get a moon buggy chase scene, vicious baboons in space, a woman haunted by the death of her parents (Ruth Negga in a small but pivotal role), gunfights, fistfights, and all manner of death.  

We watch as Roy grows disillusioned with his work, but also with the person he is. Who he is, by the way, is a reaction to his father. Roy has isolated himself from others in an attempt to not bring them the sort of suffering that his father brought to Roy and his mother. In a pivotal scene , Cliff says “I never cared about you or your mother” to which Roy replies “I know dad”.  Roy puts his work above human relationships in the same way that his father did,  He is as cold as the vacuum that he travels through.

Near the end of Apocalypse Now Willard muses in voice over: “They were going to make me a major for this and I wasn’t even in their fucking army anymore”.  Roy never gets a line of dialogue with that sort of clarity, the implications are the same. He takes the mission and he sees it through, but by the end the lesson that he has learned changes who he is.  He wanted a mission, and for his sins they gave him one (as Willard said), but when it was finished he wouldn’t want another. 

Ad Astra works in ways that it shouldn’t.  It is by turns lyrical and exciting. Pitt anchors it with a solid performance, and Jones lifts it even higher. When Jones appears with his weary eyes and worn face the film moves into a different territory. Cliff is no Colonel Kurtz. He doesn’t recite Elliot, or muse about insanity. He is still doing his job, no matter the cost to others. He killed his crew because they no longer wanted to assist in that job. He would rather die than stop.

Roy would never quit.

One note: I cannot help wondering how Ad Astra would play with the voice over stripped out. Would it be cold and vague, feeling like Kubrick or Tarkovsky? Would it be an incoherent mess? I cannot quite tell.


  1. Apocalypse Now in space. You loved it. Now we need Apocalypse Now under the sea.

    1. Perhaps Apocalypse Now with dinosaurs or apocalypse now Lovecraft edition.


Post a Comment