Indeed they did. Norris (Matt Damon) loses the election, but moments before he makes his concession speech, he meets Elise (Emily Blunt), a ballerina. He’s head over heels – even more so when, by chance, he meets her again on a bus the next day. Ah, but there are the men in hats again. The snazzy retro dressers are members of the Adjustment Team. Norris is a high-maintenance case, requiring frequent “adjustments” because somehow, he keeps doing things that diverge from “the Plan.”
That’s about all that Norris finds out – and about all that the audience finds out – in The Adjustment Bureau, a playfully serious metaphysical romance written and directed by George Nolfi and based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” (Dick is a seemingly bottomless cup of coffee when it comes to made-for-movies ideas.) Norris learns one more thing: The plan is written by some entity called “the Chairman” (to which I say, “Please, oh please, let it be Frank Sinatra! It would explain the fedoras”). It’s probably not Sinatra, because Ol’ Blue Eyes would not stand in the way of true love the way that the Chairman does. (On the other hand, Dean Martin said of his fellow Rat Packer, “It’s Frank’s world and we just live in it.”)
Norris’ caseworkers are Harry (Anthony Mackie) and Richardson (John Slattery), and they get between Norris and Emily again and again. Somehow, the two keep finding their way back to each other, destiny be damned. Ah, but the movie – or the Chairman – has a trick up its sleeve: Maybe Norris and Elise are meant for each other because it’s in the Plan, or could have been in the Plan; or maybe true love is just that powerful.
The question is: Does it matter? And right there is where this movie quietly and sneakily pokes you right in that spot in your brain where you’re not sure why characters in romantic stories are just “supposed to” be together – that little bundle of neurons where you’re uncertain if it would be better if they were destined to be together (and had no choice about it), or if they just truly, madly, deeply, freely love each other, and ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep them apart.
Does it matter why? Whichever side of the free-will-versus-determinism divide you sit on, there’s no way that you want Norris and Emily to be torn apart – not if you have an iota of romance in your metaphysically mystified heart. When Norris makes a run for it – a heart-pounding sprint for true love (in the rain, no less) – it is both a complete romantic cliché and a fresh, original, high-stakes take on the whole star-crossed lovers’ story.
Clever, that George Nolfi, chairman of the movie that kinda/sorta comes down on the free-will side of things, but leaves some wiggle room for chance (not up to you!) and determinism (not up to you again!) when it comes to affairs of the heart. The Bureau boys specialize in little maneuvers that nudge people back on Plan when they stray, but changes of heart are above their pay grade.
The Adjustment Bureau is lighthearted, sweet, romantic and a whole lot of other adjectives that you don’t normally encounter in a metaphysical, vaguely dystopian science fiction movie based on a Philip K. Dick story. Nolfi clearly diverged from the Plan here, and created a quick, lively and unlikely mashup of sci-fi and romance that really works. It’s smart, thoughtful and clever too, and made with a minimum of special effects (aside from some nifty geographical thaumaturgy). The Chairman would approve.
Syd’s pick: Check out Minority Report, a movie that’s also based on a Philip K. Dick story
In 2054, murder will no longer exist in Washington, DC, because an elite Pre-Crime unit will be able to stop would-be murderers before they kill. They’ll do it with the help of genetically modified humans with the special ability to “see” future murders before they occur.
The paradox is that the future can be foretold with total accuracy only if there is no free will – if everything (including all human behavior) is predetermined, unfree, beyond our control. But if your actions are beyond your control, how can you be held responsible for them? Philosophers down the ages have pondered that very question, and so too, apparently, did sci-fi cult fave Philip K. Dick, who wrote the short story “The Minority Report” on which director Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report is based.
Minority Report is a film of deeply interesting ideas explored with intelligence: What kind of world should we make in the future? What human values are important? Is the price of human freedom and choice too high?
The futuristic dystopia of Minority Report is spectacularly realized in all its marvelous contradictions. Spielberg has mastered art as entertainment, and he’s in full command of the visual language of cinema here. In Minority Report the director is unexpectedly playful, paying homage to a host of venerable cinematic influences and hybridizing several somewhat-confining film genres (sci-fi, murder mystery, political thriller). Minority Report is full of surprises – an original combination made from familiar ingredients.
@ Syd M