The American Astronaut may not be a strictly experimental film, or truly avant-garde because it is merely twisting genres into a sci-fi pretzel, but this isn’t about labeling the film.
The American Astronaut is a rock-musical western-cum-sci-fi adventure, which utilizes a low-fi look to create an incredibly stylized narrative. It’s a beautiful picture, and very interesting, if not perfectly constructed. The oddest thing about the narrative seems to be that the adventure goes exactly as planned, more-or-less.
What is most interesting here may stem from the title itself, The American Astronaut. It’s set in a world, rather, a universe where a sort of segregation seems to have become the standard. Venus is a planet entirely inhabited by women who are asexual; yet keep one man on the planet to, ahem, keep them from killing each other. Jupiter is inhabited by a race of worker men whose only goal is efficiency, and the one man who has seen a breast is essentially their god. The astroid Ceres contains nothing but a bar where shady, dirty characters seem to congregate from around the universe, though none of them are ever given a particular location, a nomadic trope as it were. Nonetheless, the main character, Samuel Curtis, played by director/writer Cory McAbee, is labeled American, and none of the film even takes place on Earth. He holds true to this label throughout, getting even more specific and telling people that he is from Nevada. This pseudo-experimental genre-twisting sci-fi adventure hybrid seems characteristically American, right down to having the rock band The Billy Nayer Show at the heart of the film. A sort idealization of rock-n-roll is taking place within the film, using it more often than not as a method of creating a progression in the plot, providing the exposition that the narrative is short on.
The antagonist of the film is another American. A man who chooses to kill only when he has no reason. He has struggled killing the protagonist over the years, despite the fact that he is continually chasing him, and finding him, killing everyone he comes into contact with. Professor Hess (Rocco Sisto) is an egotistical maniac obsessed with success, and always outwardly exposing his ego, from his constant insistence that it is his birthday to his role as the film’s narrator. All of the back stories, be they true or not, are filtered through a man who is later revealed to be unstable.
The film never explicitly digs into particular thematic meat, yet there is an interesting correspondence happening between the segregation of the people in this universe, while even as far as Jupiter the characters still recognize the American states.
The American Astronaut is a unique experience, it has got some great songs, and absolutely gorgeous cinematography. Definitely worth taking a look back at this film again.
Clip from The American Astronaut: