Brad Pitt wows audiences with reflective brilliance by giving a performance of a lifetime in James Gray’s Ad Astra, playing a calm and collected astronaut on the surface, but who possesses compartmentalized issues deep down.

Over the course of this introspective, interstellar thriller, Pitt as Col. Roy McBride digs down internally while diving into distant space seeking the answers to some of life’s most plaguing questions and tackling his own personal demons. One may assume this is just another space movie, but you’ll quickly learn from our severely blemished protagonist’s narration that there’s a lot more self-examination to this bombastic flick than what meets the eye.

The film follows McBride as he’s sent on a top-secret mission to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones), also a legendary astronaut, after he was thought lost on a rogue mission 30 years prior and whose spaceship is now causing power surges that are destroying Earth, as well as the entire solar system. The keen astronaut, however, feels that Space Con isn’t quite being 100% forthcoming about all the details of the mission.

We are then hurled into action as this futuristic film (set in the “near future”) begins with a mysterious electrical surge that causes Pitt to fall from a space station and parachute back into the Earth’s atmosphere. The camera shots during this sequence are nothing short of modern-day Hitchcockian and are sure to give even the most chill audience ephemeral anxiety. They also set the correct expectations for the exhilarating two-hour saga that follows.

In the film’s world, space travel has become commercialized and mainstream. There’s even a Yamashiro Japanese restaurant along with roads on the Moon, while Mars has also been colonized (with an underground community). Ruth Negga’s character, a prominent leader on the Red Planet, is a native Martian. In fact, she admits that’s she’s only been to Earth once during her entire life.

McBride seems to be following in his father’s footsteps as he builds a world of solitude and focuses solely on space exploration. Even his on-screen wife, played by Liv Tyler, tells him in a video message that when he’s actually around he always seems distant. No matter how much the seemingly strong-willed astronaut attempts not to be like his father, he can’t help but wonder, is he following him down the same black hole that left him emotionally scarred?

Given that there’s a ruminative underlying plot of a son coming to terms with his abandonment issues brought on by his father leaving, the film also uses concentrated metaphors to perceptively address some of humanity’s most intriguing questions: Why are we here? Are we alone in the Universe? Is there intelligent life out there?

Ad Astra is without a doubt writer/director James Gray’s best film to-date. One can easily see the influences of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, and noticeably Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a little of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now thrown in for good measure. But unlike his predecessors, Gray doesn’t try to get too sappy trying to associate love and energy, nor does he try to create an unfathomable omniscient force. The brilliant director shrewdly sticks to science whilst framing McBride’s valiant tale of emotional survival.

However, Gray does provide an underlying theme of religion with continuous allusions to Christianity. The astronauts pray as they take-off, and even when they lose their comrades during the tempestuous Mad Max-style space mission. Perhaps this ingredient is added simply to highlight humanity’s need to believe in something larger than ourselves. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, whose filmography includes Interstellar and Dunkirk, also deserves some awards recognition as the shots are nothing short of spectacular. Come February, he may finally take home the golden man.

Hoytema’s picturesque cinematography is accompanied by an enthralling score produced by Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange, aka Lightspeed Champion. The British musician even uses actual sounds from space to help authenticate and bring life to this mesmerizing track along with the captivating narrative.

Ad Astra blasts into theaters this Friday and it’s not to be missed. Due to the engrossing visual and sound effects, movie-goers should definitely try to catch this one in IMAX to get the full experience.