The Adjustment Bureau

He has to spill coffee on himself by 7:05. 7:05 at the latest.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is running for Senate. Things don’t really work out for him. Then he meets Elise (Emily Blunt) who gives him the inspiration to be himself. When he finally sees her again, the Adjusters (Anthony MackieJohn SlatteryTerence Stamp) need to step in to make sure things don’t get too far off plan.  The planner is the Chairman.  When David’s interest in Elise threatens to take things off plan, the Adjusters work as hard as they might to keep him in line–including confronting him directly and explaining to him (and us) what the hell’s going on.  Well, as you might expect, he’s not exactly convinced.

What ensues is a thriller that gives us all the opportunity to contemplate fate, free will, and which is better.  I’m not sure why people didn’t like The Adjustment Bureau (2011). It certainly comes very close to the edge of acceptibility, and maybe that’s it.  Maybe it went pell mell into the unbelievable for many folks.

Making a movie is just like the plan made by the Chairman.  In a movie, almost anything can be believable.  But there comes a point where you’ve set the basic premise and in one way or another lose control.  Once you lose control, you try as hard as you can to bring it back–kind of exactly like the Adjusters in the movie. At each adjustment, you’ve changed the plan until you come up with something you didn’t expect or intend.  Too many ripples.

Some of the pieces of this movie are like that–the book, the hats, the water, the strata (?).  It comes close to ludicrous, but never actually falls in for me.  That’s because they never stop to really explain.  They say “You can’t do that without a hat” rather than “the hat, built by Xyz, will allow you to do Abc.”  They point toward mythology without spelling it out.

That’s for me. A lot of people lack in suspendability.

While the story is pretty interesting, what really sells it is the dialogue and performances that reek of charm.  Emily Blunt probably goes without saying, right?  Charming, beautiful, solid acting.  Matt Damon isn’t always charming, but when he doesn’t have to be a fighting machine, he can turn on the smile when he wants to.

There’s a great benefit to making a thriller (when it has a decent premise), as I said, in giving us time to ruminate subconsciously about things.  One part of the mind will be satisfied by all the running around, pretty people, etc., while the other gets to have a good think about why they’re running.  That’s an effective use of time.

For this premise, we get fate and free will.  I prefer to consider it in the guise of the government rather than religion (because one conversation can get rude but the other can get hurtful).  And for my tangential metaphor, I’d like to bring up Robert Nozick and his machine.  He suggested that if there was an Experience Machine where we would enter, like the Matrix, and all wonderful things would “happen.”  But they wouldn’t really happen, they’d be artificial.  Thus, he seems to think, we realize that the question isn’t happiness vs. unhappiness because we want things to be real.

So each of these competitions (and I’ll focus on the human and government ones) speak to an intuition that I have about sportsmanship.  It’s not fun if they just let you win.  That’s why the experience machine fails (at least intuitively).  So that’s the individual, human side.

With government, if there’s this plan that makes everything turn up roses (ideally), but we don’t get our individual say in how we individually get there, then it isn’t worth playing along.  I get the impression that most libertarian rhetoric reads along these lines.  Another intuition of the libertarians and conservatives (I think) is that once we arrive at Utopia, then what?  All well and good, Harry’s scar doesn’t hurt him anymore, but I want more magic!

I think both groups (the Nozies and the Righties) suffer from a lack of imagination.  For the Nozick machine, do you think you would ever leave the machine once inside?  If you’re answer is “of course,” then you don’t understand the premise.  The machine works such that you’d never want to leave–by definition–it is your perfect world (even if it has “bad” in it).

Politically, while the Righties can imagine the perfect economic world that allows them to do what they like and open up their vistas can’t see that same thing happen with a more powerful government.  Some think that the one we have is socialistic and hampers ingenuity.  I think that flies in the face of reality, but they’re all about opportunity costs, aren’t they?  Such is the idealist.

My resolution of the issue, for what it’s worth, is as follows.  When we have Assad murdering his people, starvation in Africa, and human suffering generally, sportsmanship and the purity of the game of life isn’t worth the candle.  The problems are real and should be dealt with.  Once we can all play comfortably, then we can start.

That’s what the Chairman was after and that’s what humanity continued to prove was out of reach.  Consider the Chairman’s plight.  He loves people, but they’re such hurtful, violent, bigoted idiots.  I’m not sure the movie really understood him, but they brought up the question and that’s laudable.

It’s worth renting, certainly, and maybe, for some, worth buying.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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One Response to The Adjustment Bureau

  1. I rented this one out and really enjoyed it. I’d definitely watch it again. it got me thinking, as I thought it was quite clever. Did have a problem with the editing, but I think that’s just me being picky…The concept is great and I wish I’d thought of it!

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