If you don’t sort yourself out, you will die alone five billion miles from home. That, in the shell of a nut, is the central thesis of Ad Astra, the new film from writer/ director James Gray, The Lost City of Z (2016), and co-writer Ethan Gross.
There’s more to it than that, of course; this is a solar system-spanning space adventure that takes in several big, meaty, provocative themes about humanity, destiny, ambition, sacrifice, heredity, masculinity, capitalism, and more. But at its heart, warm and fragile against the vast, frozen indifference of space, is a simple message, and it’s the same one we got in 2017’s Twin Peaks: The Return: fix your hearts or die.
The particular heart in question is that of astronaut Major Roy McBride (Brad Pitt), a stoic of incredible fortitude, which is amply demonstrated in the film’s early scenes where he deals with falling off a goddamn space elevator with the same bored pragmatism with which you or I might change a washer in a tap. We’re told soon after that his pulse has never, ever gotten about 80 beats per minute no matter what danger he’s in.
This kind of nigh-superhuman self-control has its drawbacks, though. Roy’s rigid grip on his emotions has torpedoed his marriage to Eve (A near-cameo from Liv Tyler), and he admits in voice-over (there’s a lot of voice-over, but it mostly works) to having some degree of social anxiety.