“You got your sci-fi flick in my romance movie!”
Either way you feel about these two great tastes and how they may great together, these aren’t exactly the kind of sentiments one would expect to express about a movie based on a Philip K. Dick story, but there you go. The Adjustment Bureau centers around charismatic boy-man Senate candidate, David Morris (Matt Damon), who is dubbed “the GQ Congressman” by media, but who is also “inquisitive, curious, burdened by questions.” He loses his initial bid for the Senate, but as he rehearses his concession speech in the men’s bathroom, out from a stall pops beautiful stranger, Elise (Emily Blunt). They share an immediate connection and chemistry and it takes only a few minutes of witty banter, fueled by her British accent, and an impulsive kiss before he is hopelessly smitten.
“You can’t outrun your fate.” –Harry
Well, what’s a good romance story without an obstacle to overcome? In this case, the obstacle is the will of the universe itself, which as problems go, seems to be a pretty big one. David encounters a team of mysterious men in gray, who have frozen reality to make a few corrections. As their chief, Richardson (John Slattery, Mad Men), is forced to reveal, they are the Adjustment Bureau. Their job is to engage in nudges—from a spilled cup of coffee to car accidents—which have butterfly flapping its wings type long-term ramifications for all humankind.
Basically, David is presented a choice they could be great or they could have love, but “the plan” wouldn’t allow for both. So the movie becomes a tale of one man determined to master his fate, question the plan of The Chairman, and question/doubt/defy all for the sake of true love.
“The book … what if I can find who wrote it?” –David
As a writer on Ocean’s 13 and The Bourne Ultimatum, writer-director George Nolfi wrote The Adjustment Bureau with Damon in mind. He incorporated known aspects of Damon’s personality, from his political interests to his athleticism, into the role. This custom fit played to Damon’s strengths. His portrayal of this wounded character with persistent hope against Blunt’s free-wheeling, unpredictable dancer supplied the central pinning of the film. And though they head up an excellent cast, the light touch of the fun first hour gives way to a more stilted, expository approach. The movie also goes the opposite narrative choice as Inception: whereas Inception front loaded its story with the “rules” of the universe it inhabited, The Adjustment Bureau back loads it, thus weighting down the story. It was as if Nolfi was set on beating everyone over the head with the theme until everyone understood it rather than live into the intelligence speculative-fiction audience. Once everyone has been spoon-fed not only the questions but the answers to the conundrums of free will and destiny, the movie becomes just another breezy romance movie with aspirations of headiness.
Obviously, The Adjustment Bureau has many spiritual themes that it touches upon. How relationships can fill our empty spaces, the holes in us we try to fill with applause, fame, or service. How we encounter The Chairman in the ordinary and how His plan adjusts when He’s inspired by love, like Moses and his entreaties on behalf of Israel. How most people live life on the path set for them without asking some pretty big questions or wondering what we were put on this earth to do.
There is the whole idea of The Adjustment Bureau, who agents “have been called angels”—who can come across both creepy and stalkerish—but they think of themselves as case officers for Upstairs, working for The Chairman. They nudge people back on plan, rarely seen, providing the training wheels for humanity to get through life. Peeking behind the curtain and asking those questions may result in red pill type moments, when reality unwinds and you never see things the same afterward. You can no longer live as you were and have to turn from empty ways of pursuing life.
“The Chairman has a plan, we only see part of it.” – Richardson
Fate. Destiny. Chance. Coincidence. Connection. Meaning. Determinism. Free will. Somehow The Chairman has to navigate these notions, operating within certain parameters while at the same time, protecting peoples’ free will. To do any less would turn the choice of love into an act of coercion.
One way to look at it is that God is in charge of everything without controlling everything. God allows all choices, using his foreknowledge to move things toward his greater purpose/good. In His sovereignty, He gave us freedom of choice. To preserve that gift, God self-limits His sovereignty, cooperating with human freedom. Even choosing to turn evil into good—the epitome of this being Christ’s sacrifice on the cross—rather than not to permitting evil to exist.
“Do you ever wonder if it’s right?” –Harry
As you probably guessed, there was no such romantic angle in the original Dick tale. We’ve come to expect visually extravagant adaptations from Dick’s work, such as Minority Report and A Scanner Darkly, and The Adjustment Bureau gives us some of this. This is mostly relegated, however, to the agents ability to travel through doors. This pullback from what could have been is actually pretty consistent with the movie. David and Elise’s relationship is so earnest and simple (because I can’t think of too many women being that forgiving of a guy who waits three years to call her back or frankly, has a habit of dropping out of their lives for a year or so). Seriously, the only thing missing was a montage sequence of their romance.
Still, one doesn’t usually get to wrestle with ideas about free will and the nature of love and God’s sovereignty in the typical date movie. I’d probably see more if they did. It’s not often one gets to watch a romantic fantasy thriller science fiction suspense movie.