What does the future hold? In our new series “Imagining the Next Future,” Polygon explores the new era of science fiction — in movies, books, TV, games, and beyond — to see how storytellers and innovators are imagining the next 10, 20, 50, or 100 years during a moment of extreme uncertainty. Follow along as we deep dive into the great unknown.
The future, as processed by Hollywood, tends to be sleek and streamlined. Either everything will be an Apple product, or grungy and neon à la Blade Runner. But, realistically speaking, James Gray’s Ad Astra probably comes the closest to nailing what the future will look like. That’s because James Gray’s Ad Astra features an Applebee’s on the moon.
As we learned by advancing through time, the futurism of the 1960s and ’70s was maybe a little idealistic about what life would look like today. So now, in 2020, it’s hard to imagine a future that won’t stuff the garish signage of major corporations into every corner of daily life. That depressing but more realistic thinking makes Ad Astra’s vision of the future more convincing; in the film, Brad Pitt’s character Roy McBride arrives on the moon in a terminal straight out of a normal airport. Besides the fact that it’s 238,900 miles from the Earth, there’s nothing remarkable about the building, and the first two signs visible are for a DHL and a Subway sandwich shop. If we could peek around a corner, we might see a Starbucks or an Auntie Anne’s.
Further shots of the moon base make Gray’s take on the future even clearer, as there’s prominent signage for an Applebee’s and a Yoshinoya. Maybe it’s grim, but it just seems right that chain restaurants would end up on the moon. There’s even a Hudson News and a Nathan’s Hot Dogs, making the moon terminal seem more like Penn Station (which is likely familiar to the New York-raised Gray).
“If you think about the logic of that: You’re going to need to eat when you get up there, right?” Gray told Vulture, explaining Ad Astra’s vision of the future. “You can’t have grass-fed beef, there’s no grazing. Can you grow vegetables and fruits in one-sixth gravity? So then ask yourself, what would be on the moon? It would probably be processed food, artificial meat. It would be fast food, because they’re the pros of processed food and artificial meats. That’s why Subway is there.”
The argument is sound on a practical level, and emphasizes a future that isn’t utopian or dystopian, but informed by the way the world is now, and what we know about the realities of space and space travel. The idea of putting an Applebee’s on the moon might seem like a goof, but the idea becomes less and less funny the more you consider it.
OK, it’s still a little funny, but it makes sense: Solving the problem of how to live on the moon involves figuring out what to eat on the moon, and processed foods are the easiest, most economical option. On top of that, the entities most able to send processed food to the moon will be companies who have the money to make space travel possible, hence Applebee’s and Subway. Of all the cinematic visions of the future, the future as seen in Ad Astra, with steak and ribs on the moon, seems most within reach. Eatin’ good in the neighborhood — in space.
Ad Astra is currently streaming on HBO Max