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Laramie Movie Scope: Ad Astra

An emotional journey to Neptune

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 30, 2019 – Billed as a science fiction version of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, this movie is as much about one man's inner emotional journey as it is about a journey of billions of miles across space.

Brad Pitt stars as accomplished spaceman Roy McBride, who has lived for years in the shadow of his famous spaceman father, H. Clifford McBride (played by Tommy Lee Jones of “The Fugitive”). Roy's father and crew disappeared years ago during a mission to Neptune, seeking extraterrestrial intelligence in the universe.

After surviving a fall from a space tower in the opening sequence of the film, McBride learns that his father may still be alive, and that an antimatter experiment being conducted by his father threatens all life on earth. He is ordered to go to Mars to send a message to his father in hopes that his father will reply, allowing authorities to pinpoint his father's location.

McBride goes to Mars and sends the message, but is denied passage on the rocket bound for Neptune due to a negative psychological evaluation. Thanks to Helen Lantos (Ruth Negga of “Loving”) a friendly crewman on the Mars station, McBride manages to stow away on the rocket bound for Neptune, and his father.

Authorities order the crew of the rocket to murder Roy McBride, and things go downhill from there. There are similarities between McBride's behavior, and that of his father. Tragic circumstances surround both men. McBride is worried, with a lot of justification, that he may end up like his father, crazy, adrift in the mind-numbing isolation of space.

Perhaps what haunts so many people about Conrad's Heart of Darkness narrative is that it depicts a universe utterly devoid of any regard for human beings. There are many who cling to the hope that the universe is benign, or even benevolent, and that humans hold an important place in the cosmos. There are those who think that humans are so important as to merit the attention of aliens from other worlds who come to visit us often in their flying saucers.

This movie pushes a different narrative. It posits that the universe is utterly indifferent to humans, that we are alone, and we are on our own. No help is on the way. This knowledge is enough to drive some people mad. But Roy McBride is not one of those people. To him, the data gathered by his father's project, that no life other than our own was found in the universe, is just that, data. He has a job to do and he does it, and he does it alone.

Roy McBride's father was considered a hero, but he was definitely not a hero. Roy McBride, however, is a hero. He stares an indifferent universe in the face and does not blink. He prevails, despite the tragic results of his mission to Neptune. It seems to me that Roy McBride does not, in the end, become the embittered, disillusioned man that Charles Marlow did in Heart of Darkness. He seems a lot more positive, and more at peace with himself, and the universe. At least, that's how I see it.

As far as the science in this story, I thought it was way off. This movie makes it look like traveling over a billion miles across space is relatively fast and easy. If that's true, why did it take so long to send a probe to Neptune to check up on the crew? But that is not what this movie is really about. It is more about a psychological journey. Brad Pitt gives a great performance in this film. Don't be surprised if he gets some acting nominations later this year and early in 2020. Tommy Lee Jones is also good, but this movie is almost a one-man show, and Pitt carries it off nicely. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2019 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]