Free Will, the American Hero, and The Adjustment Bureau

OK. So the Chairman has a plan which involves controlling the lives of everyone on earth. There is a lot of rewriting of the Plan, which involves some leftover storylines getting in the way of the current edition, which is where The Adjustment Bureau comes in. They meddle in various lives, discounting any pain they may cause, in the furtherance of the Plan. It’s all very allegorical and, wait, very Phillip K. Dickian. (Dickensian?).

[Spoiler alert—if you haven’t seen it and are still capable of being surprised by a plot like this, be forewarned. Details will be revealed.]

Based on a story by Dick, which bears a passing resemblance to the movie, the movie has the standard layers of Dick’s reality, the “apparent” reality in which we live, the “real” reality which is under the surface, and the reality that our heroes create by penetrating the first two. With john Slattery running around in a Mad Man outfit and the very corporate hierarchy of the drones, uh angels, who make up the Bureau, it is a sad view of the meaning of life. The Chairman keeps revising the Plan. Humans can’t be trusted with the Plan (in 1910, after the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the American and French revolutions, humans were given control of their lives and look at the mess they, we, made). David Norris, the hero, played by Matt Damon, is an up and coming politician who is scheduled to become President, if he doesn’t fall in love with dancer Elise Sellas, played by Emily Blunt. If they get together, their love will be enough and Norris will lack the drive to become president and Sellas will end up teaching dance to six-graders instead of becoming the world-class choreographer she is destined to become.

But Norris and Sellas refuse to simply be part of the Plan. They seize control of their own destiny with the help of a friendly angel and ultimately cause the Chairman to revise the Plan yet again. At last view, the iPads on which the Plan is illustrated show their lifelines moving into blank territory, like the maps of 14th Century Europe. Norris proclaims that without Sellas nothing seems worthwhile, which pretty much destroys the Bureau’s view of humanity and pretty much invalidates their actions.

They run for it and, once again, American individualism triumphs, this time over God’s plan. By simply refusing to accede, our heroes demonstrate that free will belongs to the ubermench and uberfrau who can wrest it from the angels. This is, perhaps, even more disturbing. The American story is that the individual who goes off on his (mostly his) own, outside of society and usually the law, is the true hero.  Daniel Boone, Lethal Weapon, George Bush.

I don’t know what is worse—the lack of free will in favor of the plan of a diety who keeps revising the ending or the idea that the individual’s actions are not only above the law but apparently, above God’s law. Dirty Harry meets Ayn Rand with a little Christian fundamentalism thrown in for good measure.


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