Confine man to a tin can floating through celestial vastness, and he will begin to ponder himself and, by extension, his lineage. Questions drift to his mind like passing moons out the bay window. Are his children the only good thing he’s ever created? Do they mean as much to him as the glory of the last frontier? Is the floating man himself but a product of that same glory-seeking in his father?

READ MORE: ‘Ad Astra’: Director James Gray Talks Space Movies, Doing Fellini For Trump & Much More [Interview]

It’s a cold, dark place we find ourselves in the space genre. After all, today’s Be Reel trio—”Ad Astra” (2019), “High Life” (2019), and “Interstellar” (2014)—draws on the revelations of therapy couches as much as astronomy. These days, even the would-be NASA geek outs (“First Man”) are bleakly existential. And whatever madness Ridley Scott is mining with the Alien franchise has fully embraced the circular horror of creation myths.

READ MORE: ‘Ad Astra’: James Gray Takes Brad Pitt To The Stars In An Interstellar Tale Of Hope & Humanity [Venice Review]

This is the movie world into which “Ad Astra” enters. And the well-received James Gray meditation may fit all-too seamlessly into today’s “Sad Space Dad” category. That’s to say—we’ll argue it may not be so profound as it believes, at least in a world (and movie year) in which Claire Denis’ “High Life” exists.

LISTEN: Who Wants To Be A Game Show Movie? Revisiting ‘Quiz Show,’ ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ & ‘The Running Man’ [Be Reel]

But let’s boil this down to the big questions: “Ad Astra” asks if our fathers are beyond help. “High Life” asks if we can forgive our own helplessness. And bending ever toward Christopher Nolan’s crowd-pleasing instincts, “Interstellar” asks if we can save us all. (Or, wait for it, if we already did?)

READ MORE: The Essentials: The Films of James Gray

More of this episode’s “Sad Dadstra” queries include:

  • Does “Ad Astra” succeed as a self-described “Heart of Darkness” homage?
  • Where is the sweet spot for thematic explicitness in a genre so heavy with theme?
  • Why does Matthew McConaughey gently run his fingers over all available surfaces?
  • And least importantly, are Noah and I better or worse podcasters when we’re finally in the same room?

As always, Be Reel is part of The Playlist Podcast Network—which includes The DiscourseThe Fourth Wall, and more—and can be heard on iTunesAnchorFM, SoundcloudStitcher, and now on Spotify. To listen on this page, you can stream the podcast via the AnchorFM embed below or up top. Follow us on iTunes, and you’ll get this podcast as well as our other shows regularly. Be sure to subscribe, and drop us a comment or a rating as we do appreciate it. Thanks for listening.