The Adjustment Bureau

When most of the people had left the staff Christmas party last night, our host cracked out last year’s well-regarded The Adjustment Bureau.

I thought it started off pretty well. One fantasy/science fiction premise from Philip K. Dick is nicely developed: a mysterious team “adjusts” things when the world is close to going off the plan. So far so good: the key to great science fiction or fantasy is to find a good twist and ride it for all its worth. What’s the plan? Who knows, but I can be patient for it to get sorted out. I thought this movie rode fast and hard for the first hour.

The adjusters struck me as interfering aliens who seem menacing at first, but clue in David (Matt Damon) and convince him to go along with their plan. Nice twist, I thought. No merciless bad guys. clone of The Matrix. He plays along, but he’s still on the lookout for the beautiful, tart, and intriguing Elise (Emily Blunt). These two shouldn’t get together, according to the bureau, but we don’t know why. I was looking forward to finding out. This romance seems a good and inspiring thing for a politician and a modern art dancer.

I thought the film ran off the rails in the final third. When David presses too much, he’s told that Elise will end up teaching six-year-olds instead of being a world-renowned dancer. The bureau “adjusts” with setting her up for a sprained ankle during a performance. We’re then expected to believe that David goes with the plan for almost a year till he sees a wedding announcement. These dudes sprain his girlfriend’s ankle, and they’re not capable of lying? Too much glad-handing with corporations: this guy is way too trusting. Then suddenly he goes rogue, snatches up Elise minutes before her appearance before a judge and leads the mysterious men in black on a chase through a series of “doorways” that open into different places in New York.

I was fine with the happy ending for the romance. All couples in love should end up together in the end.

I was less okay with how the filmmakers got there. This is a weaker movie than The Lake House because it takes a second f/sf to resolve the story–the mysterious doors. Third, if you count the layered notion that water impedes the aliens’ ability to communicate and manipulate events. The doors are a cool idea, but two or three ideas to resolve one narrative dilemma is lazy writing.

Elise”s best destiny is not teaching children how to dance? When they were setting up this conundrum in the film, I thought, “Cool. One of her students will become the world-renowned artist.” But no. According to the filmmakers, individual personal destiny/stardom/the cult of celebrity wins out over a selfless good.

One of the movie characters (I forget who) suggests the agents are like angels. And they wonder if the “chairman” is God. I prefer the interpretation of interfering aliens. God doesn’t send angels to prevent love’s fruition and manipulate life. Authentic love enriches people who are near the lovers. My pastor frequently preaches at weddings that sacramental marriage reveals God’s love, and that a graced marriage draws and welcomes people: children, guests, friends, the poor.

To be a great film, this one needed some adjustments. I agree with Roger Ebert that this is …

a smart and good movie that could have been a great one if it had a little more daring. I suspect the filmmakers were reluctant to follow its implications too far. What David and Elise signify by their adventures, I think, is that we’re all in this together, and we’re all on our own. If you follow that through, the implications are treacherous to some, not all, religions. In the short term, however, the movie is a sorta heartwarming entertainment.

Mr Ebert’s three stars are generous. I would say 2 1/2. It’s sorta good science fiction. If it’s meant to touch on religion, it misses sacramental Christianity by a mile. The adjusters, if they’re really out for humanity’s better interests, should be spending time thwarting drug deals and wars and corporate raids.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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