The Adam Project Ending and Time Travel Explained

Netflix's The Adam Project whizzes through its exposition to crack on with more action and jokes, so we take a step back to figure out how any of this worked.

The Adam Project

This article contains major spoilers for The Adam Project

The Adam Project is a super fun new sci-fi movie from Netflix that speeds through its key rules and pretty much asks you not to worry about them, but if you’re the kind of person that worries about the rules, you’re gonna worry about them anyway!

Let’s look at how Netflix’s big budget family movie sets out the past, present, and future, and explore the film’s hopeful ending, which wipes the slate clean for a planet on the road to some very, very bad times.

Why Did Adam Travel Back in Time?

Hotshot pilot Adam Reed (Ryan Reynolds) is on a mission to locate and rescue his wife, Laura (Zoe Saldana). Against the rules laid out by his superiors headed up by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) in a dystopian 2050, he steals a jet and time-jumps back to 2018 to find out what happened to Laura but accidentally winds up in 2022 instead, where he meets his cute-but-mouthy 12-year-old self (played by Walker Scobell), whose tiny frame, asthma issues, and “punchable face” are a long way from the tall, handsome, and incredibly ripped version of Future Adam.

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Realising he’s misjudged the time jump by four years, Adam has little patience for the tricky situation he’s now in, and the awful way Young Adam treats his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) after his father’s sudden death. In the future, Adam has shifted his anger and grief from his mother’s shoulders onto his dead dad’s legacy: it turns out daddy Louis (Mark Ruffalo) was the one who accidentally invented time travel in the first place, causing a chain reaction that led to a very bleak future for everyone, including Adam.

The Time Jet

Gritting his teeth and buckling down, Future Adam realizes he needs Young Adam to fix his damaged ship, as the time jet’s controls work by recognizing the user’s DNA. Because Adam is injured, the jet won’t let him fix the damage or fly it. However, Young Adam’s uninjured DNA will apparently work just fine in a pinch so that Adam can heal and hopefully take over control of the ship after repairs are complete. Unfortunately, Adam doesn’t heal before he jumps back to 2018, and so Young Adam has to stick around.

Meanwhile, the villainous Sorian and her clean up crew track the time jet back to the past, where Adam has temporarily escaped her clutches.

Time Travel Logic

Young Adam is excited to meet his buff older self, but is naturally very confused and inquisitive about how time travel works. He wants to know if Adam remembers everything that’s happening, since they’re the same person and all. Or maybe this is a multiverse situation where these events are kickstarting a completely different timeline now that Adam has interfered with the past?

Adam rebuffs as many questions from his younger self as possible and dismisses the notion of a multiverse, mocking him for watching too many movies (the MCU is shaking), telling him that when he goes back to the future his memories of these events will be restored so that he knows what happened, but right now he doesn’t know how all this is going to end or how much of a mess he’s made of the timeline, which is fixed on “a quantum level.”

Yes, unlike those pesky Avengers: Endgame time travel rules, Adam can absolutely change the future here by traveling back to the past, and his quest to find out what exactly happened to his wife Laura may do just that.

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Adam’s Wife Laura

Adam tells Young Adam how he met his wife, Laura, when he was still at the academy. She had arrived late to a lecture and was in the wrong building. He’d offered to walk her to where she needed to be and he fell head over heels in love with her.

In the future, Laura hadn’t come back from a time jump, and Adam was informed that her jet broke up on re-entry. He refused to believe this because Laura was the best pilot in their program. He discovered her flight logs were altered by someone keen to hide the truth, and that’s why he first decided to hop back to 2018 and investigate her fateful mission.

Adam suspects that Future Sorian was involved in Laura’s disappearance, and Young Adam is perplexed. To him, Young Sorian is simply his dead dad’s lovely business partner.

Laura eventually shows up to fight with Adam in 2022 while his younger self tags along. She has been in hiding for the last four years waiting for Adam to come and find her. Laura tells him that her mission to 2018 went awry after she began investigating jump logs that indicated someone had been visiting that point in history and was wiping the data.

Laura explains that it was Future Sorian, who has been tinkering with the early months of time travel development in order to engineer a glorious future by giving her younger self tips on how to get the job done. Sorian has already changed the future using her tech knowledge and past working relationship with Adam’s father, and this future is now the only one Adam knows. It’s…not good.

It’s clear that Adam has to go back to 2018 – for real this time – and stop time travel from ever being invented, even if it means losing Laura forever. Laura then dies keeping Future Sorian busy so that Adam and Young Adam can escape to 2018.

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Sorian’s Deal

Adam is pursued into the past by Future Sorian, who is dead set on eliminating Adam to make sure he doesn’t meddle with her illustrious future as the Queen of Pretty Much Everything.

Thanks to her nefarious time jumps, Sorian has gotten rich off Adam’s dad’s time travel tech, and become incredibly powerful. In the future she has control over the most valuable resource on Earth: time travel. Why did she do all this? Because in the past that she has now changed, the government originally took the time travel tech and research away from her in the wake of Louis’ death, and she was left feeling like all the money and huge life sacrifices she made for the company were pointless.

Once again traveling back to 2018, Future Sorian tells Young Sorian that they need to clean up the Adam problem before its too late.

The MacGuffin

Adam’s dad Louis invents the magnetic particle accelerator circa 2018 while working with Sorian. He dubs his research “The Adam Project” (hey, that’s the name of the film!) and Future Adam has to convince him to destroy everything he’s worked for to prevent time travel technology from evolving.

It’s not an easy task. Louis and Adam had a difficult relationship when he was a child because Louis spent a lot of time at work, and Adam felt neglected. The two come to blows when they meet, but Louis eventually understands that the only way to save humanity from Sorian’s terrible future is to destroy The Adam Project.

Adam, Young Adam and Louis infiltrate the Sorian Technology facility in order to shut down The Adam Project for good. All they need to do is to remove and kill the crystal hard drive at the heart of the magnetic particle accelerator, because apart from this single piece of physical tech Louis never shared the algorithm that makes it all work with anyone else.

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The Ending Explained

As Louis and Adam set out to complete their mission, the Sorians intervene to stop them changing their future, and Future Sorian threatens to kill Young Adam. Louis tries to reason with her to no avail, and Sorian accidentally ruptures the electromagnetic seal containing the MPA. Magnetic items are drawn towards the MPA, and the reactor begins to fall apart.

Future Sorian then tries to kill Louis and take the hard drive, but the armor-piercing bullet deflects towards the MPA and kills her younger self instead, eliminating Future Sorian from the timeline. Louis is confused because the two versions of his son are still lingering in the past when they should have also disappeared, but the pair assure him that it is happening, albeit more slowly than with Sorian.

Louis comes to understand that he will soon die, leaving Adam alone with his mother. He refuses to hear critical information that will save his life, as he already feels conflicted about changing the future of time travel itself, let alone his own future path, but he takes the little time they all have left to reconcile with his sons, and the trio play one last game of catch before the Adams vanish.

Future Adam tells Young Adam that he should take the time to appreciate his mom, and realizes that his own efforts to escape the memories of his youth were futile and damaging. Meanwhile, Louis is left with the understanding that he should spend more time with his family before he dies.

Back in 2022, Young Adam begins forging a more loving relationship with Ellie. In a flash-forward to the future, we discover than Laura was right to hope that she and Adam would still meet and fall in love in the future, and we see their encounter at the academy play out under the same circumstances described by Adam earlier in the film.