The Adam Project combines humor and heart in Netflix’s sci-fi adventure film. The time travel action comedy stars Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Jennifer Garnerand Markus Ruffalo. Directed by Shawn LevyMarking the second collaboration between Levy and Reynolds, the Netflix film revolves around Adam Reed, a pilot who encounters a younger version of himself when a time travel mission goes awry. With the help of his younger self and late father, they work together to save the future. The film may be full of laughs, but behind this larger-than-life concept lies a touching story of how both the younger and older versions of a character help each other grow.
Typically, in an organized setting, those with more experience train younger mentees to grow professionally and personally. You see this with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, which bring adult volunteers together to counsel children so they can thrive in life. Good mentoring not only affects the mentee, but also the mentor. In the film’s extraordinary circumstances, Adam encounters an older version of himself, which of course changes him forever. Big Adam and Young Adam’s unintended relationship affects both of them, helping them heal and ultimately changing their future for the better.
Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for The Adam Project.
At the beginning of The Adam Project, the smart-ass 12-year-old gets suspended from school after starting another fight. For someone with a big mouth, he’s short, not very confident, and unable to hold his own in a fight. Also, he doesn’t have the charm to attract girls at school. When his older version crashes into his life, he gets a glimpse of his future. For one, he’s growing into a tall, muscular, confident man who can take down a legion of futuristic fighters with a good right hook and, essentially, a lightsaber. Despite these great qualities, Big Adam teaches his younger self that he has to lose a few fights to become the badass later on. When Young Adam encounters his bullies, Big Adam takes him aside to give him advice on how to fight, but ultimately lets him lose so he can get better later. Standing up for yourself doesn’t happen overnight. Though it hurts Young Adam’s ego at the moment, he’s beginning to see from Big Adam how these losses will help in the long run. Seeing Big Adam hold his own gives Young Adam the confidence to try and fight Christos (Alex Mallari Jr.) in the final battle.
As previously mentioned, the younger version of Adam isn’t exactly a womanizer. When he meets his older self, he is naturally curious about dating girls later in life. While it is confirmed that his game significant improves, especially in college, he finds it’s more than that; he discovers that Big Adam is married. Young Adam meets the future love of his life when Laura (Zoe Saldana) comes with guns blazing to (literally) save the day. It’s more than just a passing whim; he sees his older self in love with his wife and love returned by her. As Young Adam sees Big Adam and Laura interacting, he learns he has something great to look forward to. However, he also sees the heartbreak and sacrifice that comes with love. After finally reuniting, Laura tells Big Adam that they must break up so he can destroy time travel and save the world. She decides to stay behind and sacrifice herself. Young Adam sees how devastating the loss of such love is, which helps him understand the kind of grief his mother goes through after losing the love of her life.
When you are young it can be difficult to see our parents as human beings. Young Adam is quick to be a jerk to his mother and slow to show her affection or empathy. Like Young Adam, his mother Ellie (Jennifer Garner) mourns the loss of her late husband (Mark Ruffalo) but tries to move forward and support her family on her own; In fact, she worries more about how her son is grieving than about her own. When Young Adam tries to make a scathing remark about his mother, Big Adam is quick to chide him; The way he treated his mother is something Big Adam is to blame for. Seeing Big Adam defend his mother allows Young Adam to see his mother as a person, a person who needs a hug every now and then. His encounter with his older self helps him release the bitterness and anger towards his mother and reconcile their relationship.
Mentoring is not a one-way street. Not only Young Adam learns something from his older version. At the beginning of The Adam Project, Big Adam has zero sympathy for his younger self. Sure, the sarcasm carries his humor, but underneath he’s a man who carries heartbreak; he misses his wife, he feels guilty for being a jerk to his mother while she was grieving, he holds grudges against his father, and he’s spent much of his life avoiding his past. Yes, the time travel plot forces him to face his younger self in order to save the world, but in a deeper sense, he faces his earlier self in order to heal and save himself.
It’s strange how time and emotions can warp our perspective on the past; It is one of the many defense mechanisms we use to deal with and cauterize the deep wounds. As Adam grows up, he turns his sadness at the loss of his father to anger. For all the criticism he gives his younger self for not being able to empathize with her mother during her grief, Big Adam didn’t do a great job of grieving either. Instead of being sad that his father was gone, he turned that sadness into anger, which hardened into bitterness. This bitterness was beginning to stain old memories, distorting them just enough to justify the anger he was feeling. For example, Big Adam’s recollection of getting pitchback is completely false. He had come to believe that Louis bought him the pitchback because his father was too focused on his work to make up for his absence. However, Young Adam cleared up that misconception by reminding him how her father would play tag with him every night when he got home from work. Louis only bought the pitchback because he begged him to buy it when he was young. By illuminating the truth of this memory, Big Adam begins to see his father as he has been trying to avoid for so long, eventually forgiving his father and venting his misplaced anger on him.
As we grow up, there is a misconception that as we learn more about life, we know more. However, this completely devalues the curious and often insightful nature that is unbridled when we are younger. Young Adam could see past the muscles and confidence of his older self to see the truth: Adam had grown into an angry person. Although he found the love of his life in Laura, Adam’s future looked pretty bleak. By seeing his older self, Young Adam can see where the current path he is on is leading and how his current coping strategies are falling short. Young Adam teaches his older self that there is a difference between anger and sadness. Because 30 years of life doesn’t weigh him down, Young Adam speaks into Big Adam’s life with more wisdom than Big Adam can imagine. Rather than deny his inner child, Big Adam heals by reconnecting with his youthful self.
The Adam Project begins with both versions of Adam on the run: Young Adam running from a fight he had started and Big Adam running from Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener) and their armies to find his wife in the past. When the Adams meet, they are both still running away from their emotional pain. Through their time travel adventure together, both Young Adam and Big Adam begin to heal by learning from and accepting one another. It might seem a little overbearing about how self-love can save the day, but it’s a poignant message that’s more emotional than what’s typically found in a time-travel action film.
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