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Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

What would you do if you discovered that your life was already planned out for you? The Adjustment Bureau centers on the life of David Norris, rising political star, who falls for a woman, Elise, after a chance encounter. The inciting incident occurs when David is told that he cannot see her again by mysterious men in fedoras; and, if he does, his mind will be erased. These men, called The Adjustment Bureau, are to ensure that David does not deviate from his preplanned life. If he does, they make minor “adjustments” to set his life back on course.

The problem is that David doesn’t like this explanation one bit. When he asks Thompson, one of the members of The Bureau, “Whatever happened to free will?”, The Bureau executive explains that free will had been tried before, but with horrible results—the dark ages, the Great Depression, and the Holocaust, for example.

But David has never before experienced the depth of romantic feelings he has for Elise, and he does not like being told how to run his life. He exclaims, “I know what I feel for her and it’s not gonna change. All I have are the choices that I make, and I choose her. Come what may.”

With this bold statement, David decides to fight The Bureau to have a life with Elise. But David is not alone. Siding with him is a member of The Bureau named Harry, who has watched over David since he was born. Harry risks his position in The Bureau by offering to help David, and David accepts. The rest of the film is a battle—physically and metaphorically—between the age-old argument of predestination and free will. The writer and director, George Nolfi, who also wrote Ocean’s Twelve and The Bourne Ultimatum, masterfully balances both sides of the issue, while at the same time prompts us to root for the union of David and Elise.

Nolfi also presents theological ideas without taking an overtly Christian stance, but certainly provides us with spiritual fodder. For example, there are obvious analogies between The Adjustment Bureau and spiritual beings. When David asks Harry, “Are you an angel?”, Harry replies, “We’ve been called that.” Additionally, there is a God-like leader of The Bureau known as The Chairman, whom we never see, but who has appeared to people in various forms.

(spoiler alert) In the end, David and Elise deviate from their destiny by choosing love. It is quite interesting to observe that The Chairman not only allows them to have free will, but then rewrites his plan based on their choices.

Does free will win the day, or—as Thompson puts it—is it only the appearance of free will? No matter what our spiritual beliefs are, The Adjustment Bureau leaves us pondering this hotly debated spiritual issue while at the same time it gives us an appreciation for the ability to choose.

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