Though we age through our wants and desires, dreams don’t die. Shelagh McLeod’s ASTRONAUT tells one such story of a man, retired and widowed, on his way to his last residence, who still dreams of going to space.
After the loss of his wife, Angus (Richard Dreyfuss) moves in with his daughter and her family, spending nights gazing at the stars reminiscing about his late wife and ignoring persistent recommendations for his health. Having less to live for than he had previously, Angus finds love in the donkey sanctuary his wife purchased, his grandson, and his dreams of outer space.
When the first commercial spacecraft prepares for its maiden voyage, the company holds a contest; apply for the lottery and 12 people will be chosen to meet a TV audience who will vote for who gets to join on this two-week journey to space. Ignoring recommendations for health and age, Angus applies and is selected amongst the top 12.
Though his family and new nursing home staff frown upon it, Angus revels in the opportunity to see space and chases his dream, ignoring his age.
This film forces us to take a look at how we tend to ignore the elderly, and how their lives don’t end at retirement or a health scare. Angus is thought of as having outlived his usefulness, but the retired civil engineer proves himself useful with his knowledge of engineering and how it pertains to the voyage of a massive craft into space.
Angus blends his old with the new, going viral on social media with the help of his young grandson while simply telling of the old school methods of maps and printed papers to discover something incredible. He captures the hearts of those who meet him, though, they too dismiss him for his senior status.
The film spends a bit too much time hitting us over the head with his age, having Angus often reference “they want young,” and having age requirements on the lottery application that ultimately have no consequence. The pacing is a bit off and the finale is tiring, but it ultimately tells a heartwarming story. Richard Dreyfuss really does a lot of the heavy lifting selling us on an old man with a lot left in him and playing the role of a man you just want to listen to about his work. The set decorator who put him in a seat on TV where his feet dangle deserves a prize.
ASTRONAUT is a sweet story of an old man struggling with the feeling of outliving his own usefulness. It uses Angus’ story to tell us that those on the opposite side of the retirement aren’t to be dismissed as having “one foot in” (as my grandfather would say) but are still the same people they once were. They aren’t old, they are experienced.