I’ve never quite gotten Hollywood’s takes on the works of
visionary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. While many of
the films based on his work have gained critical and popular
success – such as Blade Runner, Minority Report and
Total Recall, I’ve always felt they were interesting, but
they have left me a little cold.
The Adjustment Bureau
is the first Dick adaptation that
truly and completely works, in my opinion.
Granted, it is a rather loose
adaption of the story, but perhaps the reason for this is that
the science fiction aspects are really just a series of huge
complications for what is at heart an old-fashioned love
story. Can a relationship be strong enough to survive when fate
is literally conspiring against you?
Matt Damon plays David Norman –
a political rising star in the Democratic Party, one who may
even be on the fast track for President. On the night that he
loses his first Senatorial bid, he meets a gorgeous and
unconventional British dancer named Elise (Emily Blunt). There
is an instant spark, but she has to leave before he can get any
Months later, by complete
coincidence, he runs into her on a bus on the way to his new
job. The connection is still there; he gets her phone number and
promises to call her.
The problem was – he wasn’t
supposed to be on that bus. Fate – which in this film is the
titular group of bureaucratic “angels” (well, sort of like
angels, and yet not…) who look over humankind – had wanted him
to miss that bus. Because he made it and arrives at work on
time, David actually finds out about something that no human is
supposed to know – that free will is essentially designed for
people by a bunch of supernatural watchers and handlers. Not the
little stuff so much, but the bureau is very hands on in the
huge life-altering moments. In their minds, it is better to
forego a certain amount of free will for the overall good of
Once David learns about the
Bureau’s existence, he finds out that both he and Elise are
being watched over and groomed for stardom – him in politics and
her in the world of dance. However, if they were to get together
they would never achieve these heights.
Therefore David has a huge
dilemma; choosing true love would kill both of their dreams. It
would undo everything for which both had been working so hard
for their entire lives.
On the other hand, what is the
point of reaching your dreams without sharing it with your one
It is an intriguing moral quandary for a film and one that
The Adjustment Bureau milks for all it is worth. Even if
David decides to give up his dream to be with Elise, there is an
entire huge, omnipotent force determined to assure that it never
However, with the help of his
own personal guardian (Anthony Mackie), who has watching over
him since he was a boy, David decides to fight the status
quo. Why does his fate have to be an either/or proposition? And
why – if he were to decide to give up on his aspirations for
true love – would the Adjustment Bureau still be fighting him
tooth and nail to make sure it does not work out?
As I said, it’s a fascinating
quandary and told in a quirky and ultimately romantic way. Some
might argue that the ending seems a little bit pat – and they
wouldn’t totally be wrong – but it works for this story.
Damon gives the latest of a
strong line of performances as the young politico trapped by
fate and Blunt does her finest work yet as the forbidden object
of his affections. In the meantime, Mackie, John Slattery and
Terence Stamp do fine work as bureaucratic handlers trying
desperately to keep their project from going completely off the
However, the most impressive
part of The Adjustment Bureau is the fact that for all
of its imaginative flights of fancy, it is at heart a story as
old as time. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy must go through
insurmountable odds to try to get her back.
Simple. Elegant. Universal.
The Adjustment Bureau
is a surprising, rousing and utter