Brad Pitt’s star shines in an existential, extraterrestrial ...


Brad Pitt’s star shines in an existential, extraterrestrial extravaganza

There is an abundance of tension and spectacle in this astonishing new science-fiction epic

Robbie Collin

Without wanting to downplay the one-small-step-for-man moment, the myth of the American astronaut was made by the movies. It’s most thoroughly codified in Philip Kaufman’s rousing 1983 Project Mercury epic The Right Stuff – an adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s history of the US spaceflight programme, in which a band of square-jawed space cowboys ride out with grit and pluck towards the heavenly frontier.

Ad Astra, James Gray’s astonishing new science fiction epic, takes its title from a Latin epigraph Kaufman’s heroes would have doubtless appreciated. Per aspera ad astra, it runs: through hardships to the stars.

Yet through an elegantly told, often staggeringly visualised, classical adventure narrative, Gray’s film deconstructs the dogged “great man” alpha-heroism glorified in Kaufman’s, as well as countless space blockbusters like it. Could that particular strain of masculinity be a cosmic mistake? Has the right stuff been the wrong stuff all along?..

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