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Ad Astra and the Sirens of Titan

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Brad Pitt recently put out a new movie that I found intriguing in its similarity with a novel I read this summer. 

Ad Astra is the story of Clifford and Roy McBride -  father and son. Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones) is a renowned scientist who has left his family and his son behind on Earth to go probing the edges of the Universe. His last known destination was Neptune, but Roy (Brad Pitt) has not seen or heard from him in years. Roy has followed in his father’s footsteps as an astronaut and now finds himself called upon by NASA to travel to Neptune himself in an attempt to recover his father and bring him home.

One of the momentous elements of the movie is hearing Roy’s voice as he records his mental and emotional states for the data log NASA is keeping. We also overhear him leaving messages for his wife.

“Hi Eve, it’s Roy. I’m away again, no surprise there. I just wanted to say... I made a promise to always be truthful but I wasn’t. I didn’t want you to go....”

This flash of vulnerability reveals his grief in being emotionally disconnected from his wife. But then he reconsiders and tells the recorder ”Delete. Cancel.” 

Through interactions like these we come to understand that Roy’s obsession with space exploration had pulled him away from loving the people in his life just as it had with as his father. Looking to space they overlooked the very people right next to them.

Roy logs,

“I’ve been trained to compartmentalize. It seems to me that’s how I live my life“

Even though he repeatedly claims to be fine, Roy misses his father and wants desperately to reconnect with him. 

The tension in the movie rises as he approaches his father’s spacecraft orbiting Neptune. The audience is left to wonder whether he will find Clifford, and whether he will be able to successfully bring him back home to earth.

I will not spoil the ending for you, but there is a point in the movie where Roy tries to convince his father to come home and finally love him as a father should. But, his father is still obsessed with the stars. He does not love his son or want to be with him anymore. His dad shouts, and then whispers,

“Let me go!”


This is like a knife to Roy's heart. And it makes you wonder why it is so hard for us to love the people who are right next to us.


The review for Ad Astra in The New York Times compared this movie to “The Lost City of Z” (also directed by James Gray). It also mentioned similarities to Joseph Conrad’s classic novel “Heart of Darkness.”

However, Ad Astra also bears a resemblance to a 1959 novel by Kurt Vonnegut titled “The Sirens of Titan.”


In The Sirens of Titan, the main character also lives during a time when space travel is possible and men find it difficult to love the people they are with. In the beginning of the novel, Malachi Constant  is shown a photograph of three beautiful women and told that Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, is home to such rare beauties as these. Vonnegut describes the Sirens of Titan,

“It was no ordinary photograph, though it’s surface was glossy and it’s margins white. Within the margins lay shimmering depths. The effect was much like that of a rectangular glass window in the surface of a clear, shallow, coral bay. At the bottom of that seeming coral bay were three women- one white, one gold, one brown. They looked up at Constant, begging him to come to them, to make them whole with love...He had to look away from all that beauty in order to keep from bursting into tears.”                      (Sirens of Titan p. 33)

The photograph captures his imagination and sets his life on a trajectory similar to Clifford McBride in Ad Astra. In the movie Clifford ends up orbiting Neptune, and in the book, Malachi Constant ends up on Titan.  Far from being the paradise he imagined though, Titan turns out to be an empty wasteland. The formerly alluring sirens turn out to be just painted sculptures carved out of dirt and covered with algae.

 Face to face with the wasteland of Titan, it dawns on the reader, as it dawns on the main character, that the sirens of Titan were never real. They were a mirage urging him to think the grass was always greener and keeping him from loving the people he was already with.

It is here we see why Vonnegut was hailed as a "literary idol" by the Times. Through the medium of Science Fiction he was reminding readers in the 60's of the same thing Brad Pitt is reminding us of in Ad Astra.

Life is about love.


“It took us that long to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”                                         (Sirens of Titan p.320)




Posted by Rich McCaskill with


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The Gospel According to GLASS

Genesis tells us that when God made humanity he made us in his image and likeness. As a result of this profound truth, we believe we can find God's truth and wisdom streaming out of our movie theaters, our novels and even our rock shows, because every artist, director and actor bears the image of God. The same is true of M. Night Shyamalan and his latest movie Glass.

Shyamalan became one of our generation’s most beloved directors with his hit movies the Sixth Sense and Signs. Original and terrifying his movies almost always contain imaginative twists that keep you on the edge of your seat. Though he has made some bad films over the years, his Rolling Stone interview reveals that his goal is to give it his all,

“I gave it my all, so the audience, when they come pay their money, they see an artist that gave everything he had, and risked everything. … If it doesn’t work out, I gave it my all.” 

His last three movies have formed a trilogy of which Glass is the climax. Just as Unbreakable (2000) introduced the hero and Split (2017) introduced the villain, now in Glass (2019) we have the show down between the two, or so we believe.

The reason Glass has garnered so much attention, and grossed over 100 Million around the world, is that both the villain and the hero seem unbeatable. Bruce Willis’ character is so “unbreakable” that even a massive train wreck leaves him unscathed, while James McAvoy’s character is strong enough to be shot with a shotgun at point blank range and walk away to fight another day.

As Glass unfolds and the tensions rise, we learn that the only hope for humanity is if McAvoy’s character can allow his other more tender personalities to emerge instead of the man-eating Beast. Thankfully we learn that Anya Taylor-Joy’s character has the power to make this happen. Because of her childhood suffering at the hands of her uncle, she is able to press through the Beast’s tough exterior and show McAvoy’s highly disturbed character the rare and gentle kindness of friendship.

She risks her life to hold his hand in the middle of his rage and by doing so, Taylor-Joy becomes the everyday superhero the whole trilogy is seeking to create.

This risky act of love produces the most moving scene in the movie. She bonds with this terrifying killer by showing him love and calling him by his name. Her compassion snaps him out of Beast mode and he looks at her confused. He says,

“You’re gonna be my friend? Then I’m gonna hold the light til the end”

When everyone else in the movie is aiming to defend themselves against this character or to take him down, her bold compassion is the last thing the audience expects to see. Embedded in this encounter we can see the surprising gospel of Jesus Christ shining through.

All of us, like McAvoy, have a dark side which the Bible calls our sinful nature. When we operate out of this broken place inside of us, we hurt others and don’t think twice about it. This is why the Apostle Paul can write in Romans 7,

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18)

This split personality drives him practically insane and eventually he cries out “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24).

There seems to be no hope for us either who are considerably less holy than the Apostle Paul. But we have a compassionate Savior who loves us in our darkest moments just like Anya Taylor-Joy loves the man behind the Beast.

Paul talks about this compassionate Savior in Romans 7 and answers his own despairing question. He turns from howling in pain to hallelujah’s of pleasure “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!... I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 7:25; 8:28-29)

Despite the many messages embedded in Glass, this is the one where the Gospel shines most strongly. No matter how dark our desires, or our deeds become, we have one who is fearless in the face of it, who steps forward to take our hand, to speak our name and to show us undeserved love and compassion. His name is Jesus!

As New Testament scholar Leon Morris observes,

“God does not wait passively for sinners to come to him, but actively seeks them out...The rabbis agreed that God would welcome the penitent sinner. But it is a new idea that God is a seeking God, a God who takes the initiative.” [1]


[1] Leon Morris, Luke: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (William B. Eerdmans, Michigan), 260-261.

Posted by Rich McCaskill with