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The Adjustment Bureau

October 30, 2015

TABA Bourne-meets-Matrix thriller with echoes of Hitchcock, which focuses on the big questions of destiny and the divine.

The film adds new meaning to the oft-used phrase, “It’s all part of God’s plan” — a literal meaning.

Is the course of your life solely a result of your choice, or are there other, larger forces at work? These are questions theologians and philosophers have been debating for centuries. And these are the questions at the heart of this romantic thriller.

The main life in question here is that of David Norris, a young New York politician. Just moments before giving an important speech, he meets Elis, a free-spirited ballet dancer to whom he’s instantly drawn. She inspires him to give a speech that boosts his political career, then she disappears. But, as luck—or perhaps fate—would have it, David runs into her on a bus soon afterwards.

However, when David arrives at work that morning, he sees something he shouldn’t—a bunch of guys in suits and fedoras reprogramming the brain of his business partner. They explain that they’re part of the Adjustment Bureau, the people who make sure things happen according to The Chairman’s plan.

And while they’re at it, they inform him he’s not supposed to be with Elise either—it’ll ruin The Plan for his life and hers. Richardson, the main adjuster, wrestles her number from him and then warns David that if he tells anyone about what he’s seen, they’ll wipe out his mind.

But David isn’t that easily daunted, pursuing his own wishes and plans at the apparent peril of his political career. Throughout, he’s alternately hindered and helped by the main agent assigned to his case, Harry, the conflicted adjuster. Both men wrestle with issues of free will and fate and what their role is in both.

The director has degrees in philosophy and political science and was raised with Christian beliefs He based The Adjustment Bureau on a short story by Philip K. Dick, the self-described “fictionalizing philosopher.” He told Plugged In, “I [felt] when I was finishing up the movie that I wanted to expose it to people of faith, because I think it’s very central to being a person of faith to actually grapple with these issues, as opposed to people who don’t want to have anything to do with religion who often don’t want to grapple with [these questions] at all. … This [movie] gets into the issues and the territory that religious people make central to their lives.”

During one scene, David asks Harry, the agent assigned to him, if “he is an angel” and when David attempts to better understand who the Chairman is, Harry looks up into the sky and kindly tells David that “we (humans) know him by many other names.”

When Norris asks Thompson, “If I’m not supposed to be with her, then why do I feel like this?” Thompson responds, “It doesn’t matter how you feel, what matters is in black and white.”

So is it black and white? Are man’s feelings always too controlled by emotions that we need someone higher to step in and continually “adjust” our lives toward a better path than we could ever set out for ourselves? Do we have no say when God comes into play?

“It’s not this or that,” responded Detweiler. “Gamers understand this very well, this tension between predestination and free will. It seems like they may be able to live better with that tension.”

“Because every time they pick up the game they understand that there is an intelligent designer behind the game, and they understand that there is one end goal within the game.”

The Pepperdine professor continued, “But they also understand their own free will, and that the choices they make within the game determine how you get there. They understand that you have to play the game in order to get to the destination.”

The end of the movie touched upon this matter when it stated that free will wasn’t really free will if it wasn’t fought for. It appeared that ultimately, the movie wasn’t about “the plan” but about the journey toward the plan.

Main points:

History is an evolutionary process, with the most humanistic eras reflecting the positive influence of the Chairman.

Right and wrong are determined by human passions.

The divine Chairman is the one who hasn’t seen the light yet, while humans knew better all along.

The Chairman has to interfere to keep people as a group from being immature and evil, but to keep them as individuals from being as good as they truly want to be.

The Plan is neither comprehensive nor precise.

The Chairman—the (presumably eternal) Guide of the universe—is neither omniscient nor omnipotent.

The Chairman’s Plan for the world is morally wrong.

Human “freedom” is rebellion against the Chairman.

Humans are supposed to be God.

It would be wrong for the human mind and heart to be changed by the Chairman.

Salvation is global, not individual.

Intentionally devoting your life to the Chairman and the Plan is not the thing to do.

The Chairman doesn’t want people to know about the Plan.

Good people don’t need to be saved from anything… except the interference of the Chairman.

David and Elise’s great moral test is not to see whether they will do what is right, but to see whether they will do what it takes to fulfill their human passions.

The divine Chairman’s appearance, religious preference and gender are flexible.

Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo played God in the original cut of the film. According to Shohreh Aghdashloo herself in a Los Angeles Times interview, she was replaced by the studio because she was born a Muslim and the studio wasn’t ready for Muslim to portray God in a movie. Her exact quote: “Oh, my God, I loved that role. As actors, we all know we’re at the mercy of the editing table, but not to this extent, never had I experienced it. The director, George Nolfi, decided I should play God. Everything went great until I got a call from the director who was asking to have lunch with me. He was on the verge of crying. He said, the distribution company believes that you cannot play this role….That’s right, although if I’m asked what religion I am, I say I was born a Muslim. I don’t introduce myself as a Muslim woman, but I guess the distribution company put the dots together and felt it’s too early for this.”

The original ending involved David and Elise meeting a female “Chairman” was scrapped and the finale re-shot months after the film had wrapped.

[last lines] Harry Mitchell: Most people live life on the path we set for them, too afraid to explore any other. But once in a while people like you come along who knock down all the obstacles we put in your way. People who realize freewill is a gift that you’ll never know how to use until you fight for it. I think that’s the chairman’s real plan. That maybe one day, we won’t write the plan, you will.

David Norris: What ever happened to Free Will?

Thompson: We actually tried Free Will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman Empire we stepped back to see how you’d do on your own. You gave us the Dark Ages for five centuries… until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought maybe we just needed to do a better job of teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution. For six hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason, then in 1910 we stepped back. Within fifty years, you’d brought us World War I, the Depression, Fascism, the Holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that point a decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn’t fix. You don’t have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will.

David Norris: I can go through this door alone. You’ll never see me or the people chasing us again, or you can come with me, and I don’t know what’s on the other side, but you’d be next to me and that’s all I’ve wanted since the minute I met you.

Harry Mitchell: Being early is just as bad as being late.

David Norris: All I have are the choices I make, and I choose her, come what may.

David Norris: I don’t care what you put in my way, I’m not giving up!

David Norris: So you handle the important things? The last time I checked, the world is a pretty screwed-up place.

Thompson: It’s still here. If we had left things in your hands, it wouldn’t be.

David Norris: Whatever it takes.

Harry Mitchell: Your father used to say that.

Elise Sellas: What’s happening to me?

David Norris: All you need to know is we are being chased! I need you to trust me!

Harry Mitchell: [talks to David] You’re going to look for her, aren’t you? You won’t find her. They’ll make sure of it. Even if they weren’t trying to stop you, there are nine million people in this city. You’ll never find her. Forget about her. Move on with your life.

David Norris: Who the hell are you guys?

Richardson: We… are the people that make sure things happen according to plan.

Richardson: Very few humans have seen what you’ve seen today. And we’re determined to keep it that way. So, if you *ever* reveal our existence, we’ll erase your brain. The intervention team will be sent, your emotions, your memories, your entire personality, will be expunged. Your friends and family will think you’ve gone crazy. You, well, you won’t think anything…

Harry Mitchell: The minute you go through that first door, all hell will break loose. Assume everyone with a hat on is a threat. I don’t care if it’s a Yankee cap, a bowler, or even a yarmulke. Assume everyone in a hat is working with Thompson.

David Norris: I guess you’re not supposed to identify with your subjects. You’re not supposed to feel guilt.

Harry Mitchell: We’re not built to lead with our emotions like you are, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them.

Harry Mitchell: [as David tries to write down various numbers that may belong to Elise] Your entire world has turned upside down, and you’re thinking about a woman!

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