Ad Astra is set in a future where space travel is far more advanced today, but when exactly does it take place?. Developed and made as one of 20th Century Fox's prestigious mid-budget dramas, the movie is now a Disney after their acquisition of Fox earlier this year. After mostly great reviews and some time on the festival circuit, the James Gray directed Ad Astra is now finally out in theaters for all to enjoy.
The story follows Brad Pitt as astronaut Roy McBride, who is sent on a top-secret intergalactic mission after an event known as "The Surge" begins knocking out electronics across the galaxy. The pulses are believed to be coming from the vessel of the Lima Project, a previous space expedition from SpaceCom led by Roy's father Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), who SpaceCom believes may still be alive. Roy's mission is to travel to an underground base on Mars that is unaffected by the pulses and send a message to his father. Through it all, Ad Astra presents a world where space travel has advanced quite a bit, with visitor stations stocked with shopping and Applebees on the Moon and multiple bases on Mars.
All of this is far from a reality in 2019, which may leave viewers wondering when Ad Astra takes place. Unfortunately, the movie never says explicitly what year this is supposed to be. With clear advancements in the space travel department, it is clear that this isn't set in the present day. The only explanation given for the timeline of Ad Astra's events comes in the film's opening title card sequence, which states that the movie is set in the "near future."
Even though that is as specific as Ad Astra gets to revealing the year it is set in, the movie does provide other clues to the timeline of Roy's life. At various points in the film, Roy is seen watching a video message from Clifford that was sent initially 27 years ago when he was part of the Lima Project. Later on, Roy reveals that it has been 16 years since SpaceCom said that his dad died a hero. Unfortunately, these details don't allow us to nail down the timeline of Ad Astra further, as the movie never establishes when the Lima Project first launched.
Early on, Ad Astra presents what would initially be seen as a clue to when it takes place when we see that the day of the week is Thursday and that the day of the month is the 3rd. But, since the month is not revealed, this detail doesn't get us any closer to an answer. There's at least one such occurrence every single year, and the consistent cycle of the calendar puts us on an infinite loop.
Even though Ad Astra refuses to confirm what year it is set in, the "near future" tag at the beginning and the level of advancements made in science and space travel could point to the film's events still fitting into the 21st century. That is about as specific as we can get with Ad Astra, meaning the setting is left open to debate. Of course, the year Ad Astra is set in is hardly an essential part of the father-son space adventure story, so the mystery doesn't improve or hurt the film at the end of the day.