Updated: May 13, 2020
AD ASTRA - Towards the Stars: The Patriarchal Complex in the Process of Male Individuation
Ad Astra, or Towards the Stars, tells the story of Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt, a respectable and competent astronaut. While several reviews of the film claim Roy to be mildly autistic, director James Gray has relied on the fact that NASA seeks individuals who do not need social interaction, so I will not get into the discussion about whether Roy is autistic or not, but rather the implications that the repression of feelings due to social and professional adaptation play in man and his various personas.
As the plot unfolds, Roy recounts his thoughts as he undergoes periodic analyzes of his psychological state. He describes his state of physical and emotional disposition in the form of a cold, impersonal report, although speaking in the first person, seems far from his own world.
Work appears to be his priority all the time, and his performance is so perfect, it looks almost robotic. Roy is a machine of good performance, controls his emotions and can keep calm even in the most stressful situations.
Roy achieves, throughout the film's narrative, a performance and competence far above average, solving problems where others have failed. Even with the death of several companions being caused as a consequence of their actions, they are reported as an inherent part of the action. He recounts the facts as they occurred, allowing his behavior to be assessed by his superiors. He does not seem to judge his own actions or those of his companions, at least for part of the movie.
The fulfillment of duty is above all and everyone, even himself.
The patriarchal archetype, like every archetype, has both positive and negative polarities. In its positive aspect it promotes order, establishment and respect for rules. Community life becomes easier when everyone knows about their duties and obligations. Respect for hierarchies is also a positive factor, as it is given to those in charge the knowledge and wisdom to make the best decisions.
In this sense, Roy had incorporated into his personality several positive characteristics of the patriarchal archetype, but was fixed in them, distancing himself from the characteristics of the matriarchal archetype where affection, intimacy and contact with his own feelings and emotions are part of personality development, and are fundamental to the Alterity archetype, the relationship archetype, governed by the anima and the animus, where the other and affective relationships may encompass characteristics of both the matriarchal and patriarchal archetypes.
Alongside the repressed matriarchal archetype, it is observed that the feeling function, the psychic function that judges the value of all things, shows little or no development at all, while the thinking function is overdeveloped. Whenever a function is super developed, its opposite function is less developed, as in Roy's case.
Roy has a mate, but he is far from her, as so many successful professionals work, duty, and responsibility come first. Especially individuals who have a prominent profession and great responsibility can get stuck in this efficiency persona, but also in the satisfaction that doing their job and being recognized for it can represent. In this way, we have a fantasy of personal value linked to performance, where having a performance of excellence seems a promise of success and personal happiness. Of course this fantasy of excellence goes through the persona, so prized in our society. The patriarchal persona is focused on seeking admiration and recognition from peers, in Roy's case, from colleagues and superiors. Part of the patriarchal dynamism is the fantasy that working and achieving goals are enough for the happiness and well-being of the individual.
Men's good job performance, in addition to making them valuable in the job market, seems to make them more attractive to relationships. If earlier primitive man needed to prove himself a good hunter, today modern man must be able to stand out among modern successful hunters. Perhaps in the primitive tribes men felt less isolated, as group cooperation was crucial to the success of the enterprise. Today one has the illusion that performance success is the merit of the individual alone.
Roy's loneliness is the same as many men who sacrifice their inner lives for success in professional and social life.
Roy's mate seems so far away from him that she looks almost unfocused on screen, as he focuses all his attention on his performance, and on the constant demand for the excellence and self-control performance his profession demands.
All the time the demand to fulfill missions and respect hierarchies set the tone of the film. There is no room for matriarchal dynamism and its exuberance, nor for the dynamism of Alterity, where individual differences, the questioning of actions and their consequences could be questioned so that feelings can be taken into account.
Roy is summoned to a rescue mission by his own father, Clifford, whom he believed to be dead for almost thirty years, also a respectable astronaut, a true hero, at least until that moment. The command seems to have chosen Roy for two reasons: for his competence, and for the emotional appeal his presence on the mission could have had on his father.
He learns that his father was not a hero, but a traitor to the mission he was tasked with, remaining in space to prove that there were other life forms on some other planet. His father had na obsessive fantasy of finding life outside Earth, and his rebellion was due to this obsession, the crew was supposed to return to Earth, but Roy's father treated them as deserters and killed them all, remaining alone in space for almost thirty years.
Interestingly, the same corporation that selects its astronauts and scientists for its ability to intervene coldly in its operations chooses Roy for the affective ties with his missing father, denoting ambiguity because at the same time Roy is expected to act as an astronaut in special mission, and use the fact that he is rescuing his own father as if he had no feelings or emotions attached to it. Ambivalence in mission planning puts Roy in an ambiguous situation, at odds with his own feelings of abandonment and acknowledging his helplessness at the orders he has received.
This mission relies on mistrusting Roy all the time, as they are sending a son to capture a father who has betrayed and abandoned the space mission and his own family.
Betrayal is an unforgivable crime for patriarchal dynamism, since the honor and confidence that the agreements signed are fulfilled are fundamental for the relations to be established and to remain firm.
Matters of honor are also understood within the family and family heirs, so when any member of a family behaves like a traitor, other family members or that clan become suspected of treason.
Based on this reasoning, Roy was tasked with a mission in which he is used as a bait to capture a traitor, while being summoned by his expertise, but on suspicion that he himself might behave as a traitor. Remember the expression: like father, like son.
Roy is recognized as his father's son for his talent, competence, and dedication, but he is also the son of a traitor, under suspicion.
Roy's internal dialogues show that he is not at all naive and knows that he is part of a larger gear. He knows that the invitation to the mission is a mere formality, since an invitation may be refused, and he could never have refused this mission for which he was entrusted.
The prospect of rediscovering his father, which he thought was dead, shows him the first signs of emotional upheaval, after all, his father did not die heroically on a space mission, but abandoned both him, his mother, and the mission, choosing not to return.
This is an emotional conflict that is very present in families, where fathers and mothers are absent in the heroic mission of providing the comfort and well-being of all, but often they are absent because they prefer the satisfaction of success and professional recognition to family or family life, beware of the children. Some absences, even if heroically justified, are a kind of abandonment, since the hero is always on some sort of personal journey, and the care or sacrifices that are claimed to be made for the benefit of the other may indeed be a wish of seeking one's own path, in which caring for the other becomes a hindrance, justified by the defense that the sacrifice is for the benefit of the family or the community, while the journey is at the service of its own individuation process, often through of the sacrifice of affective bonds.
Roy is in the same situation as his father, leaving his wife on a long mission, but he is also in the shoes of the son abandoned by his father, in the name of a special mission. Those who know both sides of the same situation have more external and internal variables to evaluate their own process. Since Roy was injured by his father's abandonment, he seems to understand that he can be an abandoner himself.
Maybe that's why Roy has no children, because he knows that his life would not allow him to be a present father, because he is not present even as husband and partner.
Here we see the abandonment wound, characteristic of the negative matriarchal complex, along with the negative patriarchal complex, for deep down he seems to know that his father's absence is a choice, even for noble reasons, that he knows are optional, even when demanding other types of sacrifice regarding the career.
Roy pursues his father's career in an unconscious attempt to approach the image of this absent father, living up to the expectation that he will show the same qualities present in this father.
Roy tries to become the mirror reflection he imagines the narcissistic father wants to find, but the narcissist has often abandoned his children or companions long before that happens, in fact or symbolically.
Aspects of the feminine are virtually absent in the film, most of the women present behave within the parameters of the military / government corporation, fulfilling their duties without question, and without dwelling on Roy's individual aspects. There is only one woman who questions Clifford's action because his parents were killed by him. She is the only character who brings the question about the consequence of an action in her life. She emerges from the automatism of robotic thinking and tries to seek empathy, or perhaps blame or responsibility for the death of her parents, trying to humanize the actions and their consequences.
Roy, on the other hand, is able to see his colleagues' emotions, fears and shortcomings stemming from this fear, taking effective control when needed. Perhaps this shows that although he did not show his feelings, he did not lose touch with them, but repressed them to adapt to the demands of his profession, or perhaps his masculine condition.
Feelings that are constantly repressed by the cold, competent and duty-fulfilling persona, as in the case of the Roy character, can be found in various professions. After all, showing one's own feelings and weaknesses in the professional environment is not well accepted, the problem is when we take it. This professional persona for personal and family life.
An appropriate persona must be flexible at various times in life, this rigidity implies letting these possible rigidly performed social roles become unconscious and come to represent aspects of the personal shadow, although in Roy's case, this lack of flexibility of your professional persona may be related to the patriarchal collective shadow.
Both the matriarchal and patriarchal archetypes are part of personality development, and both bring characteristics necessary for the emotional balance of every individual. The archetype of Alterity, characterized by Anima and animus, requires that the matriarchal and patriarchal complexes be elaborated, not that one be repressed to the detriment of the other. That's what happened with Roy. Anima, represented by the distant figure of the wife, although present, is not accessed through the affective relationship, but through creativity in the search for unusual and heroic solutions that Roy presents throughout the film. His creativity denotes a positive factor in the development of his personality.
The journey in search of the father has several characteristics of the Hero's journey, after all the director declares himself a reader of Joseph Campbell, and wanted to describe a mythical journey. However I want to emphasize the meeting between Roy and his father, Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones.
Clifford went into space to prove that there was life outside Earth, he wanted to prove alien existence, and spent his life obsessed with this idea. When the crew wanted to return to Earth, he considered it a riot and ended what he considered rebellion by killing everyone and remaining alone for almost thirty years.
Clifford considers his mission a failure, since he has not found alien life, and does not realize that not having found it was, in fact, a scientific discovery in itself.
Roy has been able to examine all the detailed documentation Clifford has left, and finds that his father did not see the beauty of all the discoveries he had made, and admired the beauty of the cosmos and the stars.
How often do we become so obsessed with what we want or seek that we do not realize the beauty of the journey?
How many times, seeking confirmation of our beliefs or ideas, have we isolated ourselves from the world because we find ourselves misunderstood when we are actually obsessed and blind to any other possibility?
Believing and wanting to prove that what we believe is true can be a great pitfall, paralyzing all our lives and compromising all our attitudes. A radical belief like Clifford's represents a complex that has dominated his entire life.
The trip back to Earth is extremely long, and we see Roy transformed, now aware of his loneliness and showing a desire not to feel so alone anymore. The meeting with his father, even though it may have seemed distant, made Roy analyze his father's main mistake of not seeing what he was not looking for. Clifford's search blinded him, but Roy's search for his father was transformative. He realized that he might have a different worldview than his father. He looks at the same research material his father collected, he makes a similar journey through space, but they were quite different, and had very different views on similar experiences. The beauty and immensity of the cosmos were transformative for Roy, but they did not touch Clifford's soul.
The cosmic consciousness of infinity and knowing that the earth was the only inhabited planet brought a contemplative view of life and the universe to Roy. He was touched by the numinous. His father had been able to observe the beauty of the universe for almost thirty years, and was untouched, as he was obsessed with proving his scientific theories, becoming self-centered, narcissistically speaking.
The universe is one of the symbols of the Self and the process of individuation.
Roy was fit for individuation, and as he realized that his father was trapped in his own narcissistic complex, this freed him from identification with his father, leaving him free to follow his own individuation process, abandoning some imitation of the path trod by his father, who diverted him from his own way of being.
The presence of the anima, represented by Roy's wife, played by Liv Tyler, is present upon each one of his returns, always demonstrating love and preoccupation with his well being. It is also a sign that his journey toward the process of individuation through the elaboration of his negative matriarchal and patriarchal complexes has begun. Now the mission would be to establish a closer relationship, but this is more like the promise of fairy tales.
It is necessary to free the anima from the influences of the negative matriarchal and patriarchal complexes in order to continue the individuation process journey. Now the couples mission would be establish a more intimate relationship, where the individual emotional needs would be respect and attended.
Bly, Robert – Iron John
Campbell, Joseph – The Hero of a Thousand Faces, 1949, Princeton University Press
Jung, Carl Gustav – CW6 – Psychological Types
CW9/1 Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
Neumann, Erich – The Great Mother
The Origins and History of Consciousness