The Adjustment Bureau
Whether you will enjoy this film depends a lot on your personal theology. On the very basic question of how our human free will intersects and interacts with the divine plan, it helps if you continue to be intrigued by that religious issue. But the religion represented here is very carefully whitewashed not only of denominationalism, but sectarianism, as well. What appears, then, is so politically-correct non-identifiable as to be scrubbed of any recognition at all, which, of course, creates its own replacement of the traditionalism it is trying so assiduously to avoid. The Universal Picture promo even utilizes the term “Fate”---which is a reference to the Greek pantheon which assumes a pre-Christian polytheism. And the “agents” of “The Chairman” are remarkably circumspect in their explanations, as well, but they do look like ordinary men (though all skinny and wearing fedoras and dressed in business suits). And they all work for “The Adjustment Bureau,” which is charged with making small interactive adjustments to human behavior so that events will conform to the pre-arranged “Plan” of “The Chairman.” Thus, for the sincere believer, the very premise is fascinating: how to deal with the complex, delicate topic of predestination without ever using the word.
Matt Damon plays David Norris, a young, successful politician on the cusp of winning a Senate seat from New York . But some embarrassing photographs of college fraternity hijinks de-rail the campaign, and a clearly disappointed Norris is standing by himself in the Men’s Room, reluctantly rehearsing his concession speech. That’s when he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), who was hiding out in one of the stalls because security was after her because, well, she’d crashed a wedding reception. Our freshly-failed campaigner finds that refreshingly amusing, even admitting to her that he did that once, himself. There’s something charming and disarming about their interaction, but little do they know there are mysterious forces working against them.
Norris delivers his concession speech, unexpectedly giddy, looking forward to contacting the mysterious Elise as soon as possible. But then he’s accosted by strange men who tell him he must not do that, and they burn the card with her telephone number on it. Bewildered, he wonders what in the world (or otherworld) that was all about, but then, by chance (ah, the introduction of other prevailing forces into the equation), he spots her on the bus. It seems the “agent” in charge of making sure that didn’t happen nodded off on the job (that’s the trouble with assuming mortal form). Now they’ve met again, and they weren’t supposed to, which somehow alters “The Plan”, but nobody seems to know exactly why it’s so important for this romance not to happen.
At this point the romantics in the crowd are rooting for the charming, beautiful, sexy couple to somehow find a way to be together. And Norris is more than determined; he is ready to give up a still-promising political career for the chance to be with the one person he can’t quit thinking about—and she, it seems, feels the same way, but she has a career, also (as a ballet dancer and choreographer), and a boyfriend/fiancée, and, well-----who knows what might have happened if we’d chosen our mates differently?
Ah, but that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here---the consequences of making personal decisions, and the unforeseen effects on the lives of others, as well. Can any of this be undone, or done over? Well, that’s the mysterious part, isn’t it?
It’s interesting that one of the “agents” explains that there were times and seasons of greater intervention in human history: more in Roman times, less in the Dark Ages, more in The Enlightenment, less in The Holocaust---pretty much implying that when they back off, we mess it up. So the price of freedom is chaos? Ah, but the most fascinating part is when “the powers that be” are, in turn, inspired by humans to change their intentions (see the instances in scripture of God “changing His mind,” for example, Exodus 32:14).
So, of course, at the end, we still have logical muddle, but we also enjoy the spectacle of humans acting determinedly and courageously in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, especially in the pursuit of love---which is divinely human, indeed.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor, United Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas