“The Adjustment Bureau” is about a group that adjusts people’s lives to a predetermined script. That script is written by the Chairman, who oversees people’s activities to ensure a proper outcome.
It’s a Calvinist movie.
The story focuses on David Norris (Matt Damon), a congressman running for the Senate in New York. As the movie opens, he is winning in the polls by a wide margin, but a compromising photo surfaces days before the election. He loses.
On election night, he has a chance meeting with Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), and romantic sparks fly. Elise inspires David to speak his mind in the concession speech. All of this is according to what the Chairman wants.
After David leaves politics for business, he encounters Elise again, this time on a bus. But that isn’t supposed to happen.
The script called for David to spill his coffee on his shirt and be late for his meeting. One of the Chairman’s men (Anthony Mackie), who is assigned to David to keep him on script, misses the timing, which allows this meeting.
The encounter with Elise and the missed spill puts everything out of whack, resulting in David’s awareness of the group that “adjusts” things. This revelation opens up the hidden world that works to ensure that everything stays on script.
David is let in on this world because he has a large role to play in the future. He is told that if he strays from the script, he will be taken and his mind wiped of all memory.
David isn’t to see Elise anymore – but his love for her will not let him rest until he is with her.
“The Adjustment Bureau” has an interesting premise, laying out the tenets of Calvinism in a nontheological form.
It presents a world of total depravity. David is told by Thompson (Terence Stamp) that humans were too dangerous to be allowed free will. Thompson speaks of the Dark Ages as a time when the Chairman let free will occur, but humanity’s wayward nature nearly destroyed the world.
David is unconditionally chosen, elected, to be part of the script that plays out. He has no say in this. His past has been manipulated to make him the person he is in the story.
David can do nothing to resist this. He is part of it, and to divert from it can cause him to cease to be.
The claim that the Chairman is God is not clearly made, nor is the statement that the men who follow David are angels. But that seems to be the intent.
I also find it intentional that the main character’s name is David. We know from Scripture that David was a man after God’s heart.
“The Adjustment Bureau” is a great idea, but it’s not well executed as a movie. It doesn’t play out well.
Yet, I will see this movie again – not because I think it is great, but because it intrigues me and I want to see if I missed something important. Will a second viewing change my opinion? Probably not.
“Bureau” is a nice attempt, but the script needed some adjustment. That might have made it irresistible.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image.
Director: George Nolfi
Writer: George Nolfi (based on a short story by Philip K. Dick)
Cast: Matt Damon: David Norris; Emily Blunt: Elise; Anthony Mackie: Harry Mitchell; John Slattery: Richardson; Terence Stamp: Thompson; Michael Kelly: Charlie Traynor.
The movie’s website is here.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.