There’s a “drop-out moment” in Ad Astra (Fox/Disney, 9.20), and once it occurs — once you’ve experienced the shock of it and muttered “wait…what the hell was that?” — there’s no getting back in the groove, as it were. Ad Astra has thrown you through a window. You can continue to watch it, of course, but the damage has been done.
I’ve put quotes around “drop-out moment” because it’s a famous William Goldman term. The late screenwriter-author has owned it for years. Most problematic films deliver drop-out moments of one kind or another, he explained, and “when they do the viewer stops believing.” The faith has been shattered. And “when belief goes, caring is right behind.”
Two and a half years ago I offered my own definition. Drop-out moments are “when something happens in a film that just makes you collapse inside, that totally anesthetizes or at least startles and yanks you right out of your suspension of disbelief, and thereby disorients. You might stay in your seat and watch the film to the end, but you’ve essentially ‘left’ the theatre. The movie had you and then lost you, and it’s not your fault.”
I can’t technically spoil the Ad Astra moment in question because at least one prominent critic (Variety‘s Owen Glieberman) has already done so. It’s in paragraph 6, if you’re curious. For all I know others have also mentioned it.
I can at least say that it involves a certain biological presence, and more specifically Brad Pitt encountering said presence. For me there’s a faint echo in a certain Christian Slater film from the early ’90s. It’s a forehead-slapper, I can tell you that. A friend had a reaction similar to mine. She actually began to giggle and had to stifle herself immediately for fear of distracting viewers who were sitting nearby.