Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reel To Reel: The Adjustment Bureau

We control the horizontal, the vertical, and a lot more.

Going Rate: Worth full price for thinking people.
Starring: Matt Damon
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Mild language, one sex scene, some action violence

Proverbs 16:9 (NASV) tells us: "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps." Deism, that belief shared by many of our founding patriots, tells us GOD created the world and then stepped back. The Adjustment Bureau is somewhere between the two, but it's ultimately a hybrid of The Matrix, The Butterfly Effect, Men In Black and Inception with a Twilight Zone feel. It tells us the world is secretly run by a group of well-dressed men in fedoras who are monitoring and occasionally nudging our life decisions in accordance with "the plan" which is administered by "The Chairman." Does that mean GOD? Are the guys in the hats our guardian angels? It's a good dinner-table discussion.

Congressman David Norris (Damon) is a rising political star who's about to win a Senate seat when a tacky picture surfaces in the New York Post that scotches his election. In a moment of public disillusionment, he gives a concession speech excoriating the packaging and consulting that is modern-day politics. Were those moments chance? Keep your eyes on the guys in the hats. They are a shadowy, joyless, bureaucratic bunch, armed with "plan books" that plot out a person's future like a real-time subway system map lifted from Hogwarts. The guys skip around town using conventional doors in a way that bends the time-space continuum. Wings are so yesterday.

Norris finds out about the mystery men when one of the adjusters botches what sounds like a simple assignment: get Norris to spill his coffee before he gets on the bus, thus keeping him from reconnecting with love interest Elise (Emily Blunt). You wonder what could be so bad about a professional dancer with a British accent whose only sins we know are crashing a wedding and talking to Norris in the men's room on Election Night. Turns out Elise isn't in his "plan." Yet they meet again, and Norris is taken back behind the curtain of the universe -- or in this case, an abandoned warehouse -- and told to forget about the girl and the men who just abducted him. Otherwise they will erase his entire brain, an awfully excessive means of getting rid of a flame. Then again, selective deletion didn't work so well in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

Matt Damon gets to run a lot in this movie, just like in the Jason Bourne flicks. So we've got action. We've got rebellion. We've got intrigue and sticking it to "The Man," even if he may be our Creator, as Norris figures out he may be able to rewrite his plan and confound the adjusters. Most of the action, however, is in our minds as we dwell on the larger questions.

"What happened to free will?" Norris asks. That was tried before, the adjusters tell him, and humanity messed things up. Well, duh. That should've been obvious after that little serpent incident in the Garden Of Eden. Instead, it seems the adjusters and their Chairman are in the cycle of stepping in and stepping back, thinking people have matured enough to let them plot their own destinies only to find they're not. Judged against history, it sounds reasonable, perhaps Biblical, but it's not. Romans 8:28 kills the theory that GOD steps back, as does that aforementioned passage in Proverbs. But I'll admit, I thought about Hebrews 13:2 (NIV) when I thought about one of the guys in the hats: "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it."

The Adjustment Bureau is another fine product from the works of Philip K. Dick, the writer who gave us the stories behind Blade Runner, Minority Report and Total Recall, three other sci-fi classics. It's hard to believe he was so poor at one point, he resorted to eating dog food. Was that part of his plan, or just chance?

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