Ad Astra, the epic sci-fi drama starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut searching the edge of the solar system for his missing father, faced an unusual amount of criticism for its many scientific inaccuracies. However, as director James Gray recently explained in an Instagram live interview with his Ad Astra producer Rodrigo Teixeira, realism was never the film’s goal.
If you’ve not seen the film, I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that the movie is very internal and almost dream-like. There’s action scenes and sequences of extreme space peril, but it’s more like a cosmic fairy tale than a traditional sci-fi thriller like Gravity. And yet for some reason Ad Astra endured a ton of “well, actually” critiques about its handling of space travel.
Here’s some of what Gray had to say about all the space nerd criticism:
“We were trying to do a kind of fable or a myth in space… one of the things that troubled me about Ad Astra was when people said, ‘Well, in the actual science his hair would be floating in zero G or he wouldn’t be able to sail through the rings of a planet.’ To me, it’s a very fatuous level of critique. You don’t read the myth of Icarus and say, ‘Wax on feathers wouldn’t allow you to fly.’ Of course that’s true, but it’s all about metaphor essentially. I felt that we were trying to get at, and [cinematographer] Hoyte van Hoytema understood, something mythic, almost like a fable.”
It seems like dramas set in space tend to get picked apart by pedantic fact-checking more often than those in any other setting. And while it makes a little bit more sense for a film like Gravity, in which the premise is focused on a person using established science and technology to survive an increasingly desperate but realistic situation, it’s odd that audiences would subject a futuristic sci-fi adventure fable to the same level of scrutiny. You can check out the full interview below. And if you need help unpacking that ending, check out our Ad Astra: Ending Explained piece.