Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain
In his short story “The Adjustment Team”
science fiction writer Philip K. Dick explores whether we possess free will, or simply the appearance of it. Renamed “The Adjustment Bureau,” the film adaptation uses Dick’s concept, though, unlike his story, the film focuses the debate on a prohibited romance.
Terence Stamp plays Thompson, the leader of an adjustment team that takes direction from a book showing how the future unfolds both before and after the bureau makes slight changes to the natural course of human events. Small adjustments, such as obstructing someone’s path for several minutes, ensure the success of the bureau’s master plan. Bigger changes, such as adjusting someone’s opinion using mysterious machines, must first be approved by bureau higher ups.
Having accidentally stumbled onto the Adjustment Bureau at work, David Norris (Matt Damon) is one of a very few humans to learn of the bureau’s existence. Normally, brain erasure would ensue, but because David is a young politician integral to the master plan, he is released after being warned that sharing his knowledge will have dire consequences.
David’s personal adjuster, Harry (Anthony Mackie), is a fedora’d bureau member lurking in the background of David’s New York City milieu. Harry works with Richardson (John Slattery), a more experienced adjuster and Harry’s consultant regarding how to best carry out Harry’s orders.
One day David bumps into Elise (Emily Blunt), a talented dancer as disinclined toward small talk as he is. They form an instant connection and seem a perfect match – although they part without exchanging numbers. David rectifies this mistake during a later chance meeting, but he is informed by the bureau that being with Elise will ruin both her future and his.
By the time David encounters Elise once again, he no longer cares about any future that doesn’t include her.
With Harry’s help, David learns to use doors as geography-bending wormholes. The cat-and-mouse portion of the film is less heart-pounding than expected because the story maintains the author’s cerebral emphasis, despite placing love front and center as David’s motivating force.
Because the romance is embodied by a pair of sympathetic leads and is handled smartly, we give this adjustment a pass, though the love story distracts from Dick’s central question. To what extent does free will exist, or is it simply an illusion? After several lively discussions and a dozen cups of coffee, I’m still struggling to adjust my answer.
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