Netflix's In The Shadow Of The Moon's ending includes time travel, sacrifices and a lot more confusing plot devices besides. A twist-filled sci-fi neo-noir mystery about obsession and sacrifice that plays like a cross between 1995's 12 Monkeys and True Detective, In The Shadow Of The Moon is directed by Tim Mickle and stars Boyd Holbrook and Michael C. Hall.
In 1988 Philadelphia, Thomas Lockhart (Holdbrook) finds himself on the heels of a killer who can cause their victims' brains to melt out of their head using technology nobody can make heads or tails of. The story then jumps forward in nine-year intervals, charting Lockhart's prolonged and life-destroying efforts to find this murderer who keeps disappearing and re-appearing, each time providing a couple more clues as to the exact nature of what they're doing and how they're doing it.
The rabbit hole Lockhart falls down, almost dragging every member of his family down with him if not for Det. Holt (Hall), leads to some tragic revelations, and a chance for a new start for the aggrieved policeman. Here's everything you need to know about In The Shadow Of The Moon's ending, and what the murderer's motivations were.
What Actually Happens At The End Of In The Shadow Of The Moon
In The Shadow Of The Moon's ending brings about a full-circle resolution that plays on the central structure of the narrative. The film opens on a bombing in Philadelphia in 2024 before jumping back to 1988, where we meet Lockhart and his heavily pregnant wife, Jean. While on duty, Lockhart and his partner are called to a bus crash, where Lockhart discovers the victim had been killed by an injection to the back of the neck that somehow causes the aforementioned brain-melting. On the trail, they track the killer to a subway station, where Lockhart has an odd exchange with his suspect before she ends up being killed by an oncoming subway.
She tells Lockhart about his daughter, who was only just about to be born. When his wife passes away, Lockhart uses the case of this mysterious killer as a way of dealing with the grief of losing his wife. Jump forward to 1997, and another wave of brain-melting deaths occurs on the same day as nine years previous, and Lockhart, now a detective, figures it's the same woman, despite her dying in 1988. He stays on her trail, becoming more and more unbearable for those around him as he refuses to let up on his hair-brained theory that she's a time-traveler, and there's a connection among all her targets.
He gets his redemption in 2015, when he finally manages to meet her and the exact time and place her time-machine was landing. In the confrontation, she explains that she's his granddaughter, Rya, and her mission was stop a group of white supremacist terrorists from starting a new American civil war that tears the country apart. Lockhart had found out many of the people she killed were on the mailing list for the True America Movement, which, in 2024, bombed Philadelphia, the aftermath we see in the opening, and kicked off the race war.
She's traveling back through time, working backwards through every time there's a blood moon, meaning this is her first meeting with him. The injections are triggered from the future, designed to reverse the war from happening by Dr. Naveem Rao, who designed the weapon and her time-travel pod. She encourages Lockhart to go meet his daughter, who's giving birth to Rya, as their future is now safe from the oncoming conflict. The final scene of In The Shadow Of The Moon is Lockhart holding baby Rya, as he's welcomed back by his estranged family.
How In The Shadow Of The Moon's Time Travel Works
Time travel is introduced midway through In The Shadow Of The Moon. In 1997, Lockhart and his then partner Maddox are visited by a Dr. Rao, who tries to explain to them that the suspect they're searching for is traveling through time via the lunar cycle. Every nine years, there is the real-world phenomenon of a “blood moon”, during which it becomes feasible to open a rift in time and space that someone can jump through. The detectives shrug away the possible explanation, but Dr. Rao would continue this work until he became not only successful, but the one who sends Rya on her mission.
The way the time travel is depicted in In The Shadow Of The Moon draws from ideas in a number of sci-fi staples, including the previously mentioned Twelve Monkeys and The Terminator: time is fixed, the characters can't change the past but only enable it.
Rya has to use a pod covered in piping and insulation that fills with water to transport herself, and she can seemingly only go one stop at a time in reverse order, so lands in 2015, then 1997 and so on. It's a clever plot-device, making her and Lockhart both the hero and villain, depending on the perspective you follow, and creating a heavy inevitability to the ultimate cadence of the story.
Rya And Dr. Rao's Mission Changes The Past, But Can't Change Everything
The tragic part of In The Shadow Of The Moon's ending is that by incidentally killing Rya in 1988, Lockhart created a fixed point in time that cannot be undone. The pair became stuck in a time-loop - she's only born because of the circumstances of her grandmother's death and what came after. In combining his unwavering need for closure on his wife's death and catching Rya, Lockhart lost almost everything in the ensuing 27 years, alienating his daughter and extended family. However, his daughter welcomes him back into her life when she's in labour, wanting him to see his first grandchild.
Rya's work stops the True America Movement from ever getting powerful enough to wreak havok, thus meaning everyone has a chance at a newer, better future. In a closing monologue, she discusses that Lockhart will live a life surrounded by love and forgiveness, and that what she's done gives everyone a second chance, never having to know how close we came to brink of pure devastation.
In The Shadow Of The Moon also reflects back on the real world more directly. Racist groups like the True America Movement have become emboldened over the last several years, and the way their beliefs are shown to be ingrained in generations of everyday people is a poignant way of highlighting the challenge of trying to overcome the tendrils of white supremacy. We can't rely on a time-travelling hero to reverse things if we let everything boil over. Instead, we have to build a better tomorrow now, and give ourselves the chance Lockhart almost didn't get.