Though the trailers and previews have been fairly coy about the mystery that lies at the heart of Ad Astra, there are plenty of details to ponder ahead of its Sept. 20 release. Ad Astra looks to be an exploration of not just deep space but also the innermost human psyche, with an existential crisis or two thrown in for good measure. And though the film's "deep space exploration" conceit might sound like something that would be right at home in some far-flung future, Ad Astra might actually take place a bit closer to our own current reality.
When astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) embarks on a journey that literally follows in his father's (Tommy Lee Jones) footsteps, it's less about attaining some sense of pride or familiarity with his legacy than it is about solving a puzzle left behind by his disappearance. His father, Cliff McBride, also happens to be an astronaut, one who disappeared on a deep space expedition some 30 years before the events of Ad Astra. Roy is pulled into his strange wake after evidence surfaces that Cliff might have something to do with a current threat to humanity's existence: an anti-matter reactor threatening to explode and consume our entire universe. The movie follows Roy's struggle to try and understand who his father was, and, most of all, what his disappearance means to not only him but to the rest of the human race.
According to multiple reviews from the film's Toronto International Film Festival premiere, Ad Astra is set in "the near future"; Slash Film, Movieweb, The New Yorker, the Portland Mercury, and Forbes all attest to that timeframe using those exact words. IndieWire goes just a tiny bit further, however, but only by sharing the likely purposefully vague opening titles, which evoke a very Star Wars feeling by saying that the film is set "in a time of hope and conflict."
The technology in the film's official trailer reveals plenty of clues as to just how "future" this "near future" might be. Large space stations parked just outside of what looks like Earth's atmosphere; speedy lunar lander car chases; and even a moon colony (complete with modern-day branding you'll certainly recognize) give a sense that we're not looking hundreds of years ahead.
The moon colony seems like one of the more concrete clues as to Ad Astra's timeframe. In actuality, the colonization of the moon is on the table right now, as NASA is currently looking at establishing a sustainable human presence on the moon's surface by 2028, with hopes that it will provide further insights into the eventual exploration and colonization of Mars. What was once science fiction is becoming science fact. So while Ad Astra is very much a fictional story, these details seem to be based on developments that are in the works as of this very moment.
What's more, while the setting might be a futuristic one, the story itself has roots in one of the most classic, timeless myths. Director James Gray explained to CNN that he looked to Homer's The Odyssey for Ad Astra's inspiration: "The whole M.O. originally was The Odyssey from Telemachus' point of view. His father, Odysseus, goes away for 20 years and disappeared. He would have to reconcile with that." He continued, "Telemachus looking for Odysseus was our through-line. That enabled all the exposition, expatiation — whatever word you want to use — about this near-future world. It gave it room to breathe."