Astronaut Farmer, The (2006)

Rated: PG .Grade: B+BAB=B+

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Virginia Madsen, Max Thieriot, Bruce Dern, J.K. Simmons, Kiersten Warren, the Director’s family (Jasper, Logan, and Mark Polish), and Bruce Willis.

Directed by: Michael Polish

Summary: Charles Farmer was in line to become an astronaut until his father committed suicide and he left the program for personal reasons. Unable to return, he decides to create his own rocket and spends the duration of this movie trying to realize his dream to launch into space, a dream around which his whole family culture has been built.

Entertainment Value: B+ It’s good. But I can warn you that Blockbuster is no place to rent it, since most stores around the country only ordered 3-5 copies. When I saw it on the shelf one time, I rented it and promptly went across the road to buy some lottery tickets. (Yes, Virginia, that’s a joke.) The plot is engaging, the scenario is interesting, even if wildly improbable, and it’s certainly an entertaining family movie.

Superficial Content: B Drugs/Alcohol A, Sexuality A, Violence B, Language B, Illegality C. There is some minor profanity, a couple of references to sex, and a guy defying the FAA by building a rocket in his barn and fueling it up! Someone gets pretty badly hurt in an accident.

Significant Content: A If there was ever a movie made about the American spirit, this would surely be it. Rugged individualism, dreaming, family unity, and defying authority when authority is being unreasonable. It’s also a brazen commentary on news media and their parasitic nature. One defect here is the level of disregard for his family’s welfare that Farmer has when he puts himself and their financial future at such risk for his personal dream. Another problem is that authority (banks, FBI, FAA, NASA) is portrayed as bad, manipulative, and even bumbling. Then again, I loved the idea that meaning comes from a shared project and that giving up on a dream is a worse lesson than risking death in the pursuit of it. But the one element which makes me give it an A in spite of these concerns is the portrayal of a wife who properly sees her duty in life as to support and help her husband’s purpose. I can’t think of the last time I saw Biblical wifelihood so accurately demonstrated in a movie.

Artistic/Thought Value: B Why does it seem like half the movies I’ve seen recently all take swipes at the Patriot Act? Once again, we have a movie which no one would classify as “high art,” but it is certainly decent entertainment which could generate some fruitful discussions, particularly about family loyalty and love.

Discussion Questions:
~Do you think Charles Farmer was a good father/husband? In what ways? Do you think that Audie ~Farmer was a good mother/wife? In what ways? Would your answers have changed with a different ending of the movie?
~What do you think of the portrayal of authority here, especially NASA and the FAA?
~How can you tell the difference between a dream that others just don’t understand and a dream that’s truly irrational? Is there anything wrong with having rational dreams? Do you have any dreams?
~Is this truly a case of “dream oppression” or something else? Are some dreams dangerous enough that they should be prevented? Consider the scene with the test rocket and the damage that could have caused.
~Do you think that Farmer’s children would rather be deprived of their father because he risked his life on a dream and died or have him quit for their sakes? How do a man’s obligations change when he has a family? Are there any parallels to be drawn between this and being a missionary? ~What about men who are actual astronauts or drag racers?
~What point is this movie trying to make about news media? Is it fair?
~Some people describe the Farmer family as a cult. What features of the Farmer family do look like a cult and what do not?
~Which people want Farmer to succeed and fail before he tries to launch. How does this change afterward? What do you make of this?
~This movie is a work of fiction, but it freely uses elements that make it seem like it’s based on a real story. Does this bother you?

Overall Grade: B+ I wish they had named it just “Astronaut Farmer” instead of “The” Astronaut Farmer. That would have been cleverer. October Sky was also excellent if you enjoy rocket-themed movies.

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