THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU
US, 2011, 106 minutes, Colour.
Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Michael Kelly, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery.
Directed by George Nolfi.
When the credit for this film being based on a story by Philip K. Dick, The Adjustment Team, then the tone of the film fell into place. However, it was not quite doing it while the plot was unfolding. Dick is famous for being the author of Blade Runner, Total Recall and other stories on which films have been based like Minority Report and Paycheck. The world of Philip K. Dick had many dimensions, explored the reality of human nature (both of humans and replicants) and took its fans into different futuristic worlds and different moral choices.
The world of The Adjustment Bureau does not look like a different futuristic place at all, even despite mysterious doors which open directly into locations some distance away in terms of realism. This is New York as we have come to know it, American politics, campaigns and dirty tricks as we have come to take them for granted, romance as we might expect it in the movies. Then strange men wearing hats appear and start to control the protagonists’ lives, even with digi-books. But, this seems so casual that we don’t realise that we are in a Philip K. Dick world and are forced to juggle the realism with the fantasy.
Not that the theme is not interesting in itself: the nature and exercise of free will. This takes the audience out of its comfort zone (although we are lagging a bit in appreciating where and how we are being taken) and raises questions of transcendence in terms of destiny, fate and free choices. There is talk of the chairman, who seems to run a bureau which determines people’s lives. But, there are some rebels even amongst his guardians (angels?) with their electronic books of life, everything mapped out for all of us. But, many science fiction films have reminded us that love can overcome everything. And this is the key here. Is that what the chairman hopes we all will do, move out of the seemingly predestined plan, discover love and make free choices?
I am not so sure that many audiences leaving The Adjustment Bureau will want to spend this kind of time musing over what they have seen. They might simply say it was interesting enough, that the actors were good, but it was a bit of a misfire.
The actors are good. Matt Damon, rather ubiquitous at the moment, is a genial politician with a quick temper who falls in love with a dancer, played by Emily Blunt. And Terence Stamp, brooding looks and diction, is one of the chief underlings of the Chairman.
A science fiction romantic oddity.
1. The title? The questions and answers? Reality and fantasy? Based on a book by Philip K. Dick – and his interest in science fiction, science fantasy?
2. The film as a piece of Americana, American politics, the media, the world of dance, relationships and love?
3. The basic premise: human life, fate, destiny, maps, possibilities for change? The question of who is in charge and control? The opening of doors, moving into another world, swift connections?
4. The city settings, the apartments, offices, campaigns, dance studios, theatre, the streets, transport? The reality aspects?
5. The other world, the bureau, the personnel, their clothes and hats, guides, equivalents of angels, the authority figures? Thompson and his role in the bureau? The hierarchy, the supreme controller? The doors and openings?
6. David’s story, his life, campaign, full of promise, the media, the article against him, the critique – and the slight case of mooning? His defeat? His relationship with his campaign people and managers? The result and his acceptance?
7. Elise, going into the men’s washroom, the discussions with David, recognising him? The attraction? Her departure, the chance meeting on the bus? The reality of the meeting? Their pasts? Her relationships, dancing, training, performing? The injury? Her other life?
8. David and his rediscovering Elise, the love, the pursuit, the authority figures after them, the doors and their moving through the city?
9. Harry Mitchell, his role as a guide, the maps, his explanations to the authorities, his sympathy for David? Helping him? Breaking the rules? The other agents, their appearances, the decisions?
10. Thompson and his role, the explanations, the pursuit, altering fate?
11. Politics, Charlie Traynor and his role with David? The possibilities of politics for the future?
12. The themes of control, fate, free will, possibilities? The story serving as a moral fable?