- (Photo: Universal Pictures/Andrew Schwartz)
Warning: Spoilers ahead
SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. – How much power exactly do the agents of fate hold over someone’s life? Can free will ever win over fate? And is it free will or fate that orchestrates action?
Such are the questions that come to mind throughout George Nolfi’s newest film, “The Adjustment Bureau,” based on the short story by Phillip K. Dick.
“The intention of this film is to raise questions – that’s what art should do,” commented Nolfi about his soon-to-be released motion picture at an earlier Pasadena screening. And that, Mr. Nolfi, it definitely did.
The screening on Tuesday was followed by a discussion led by Craig Detweiler, associate professor of communication at Pepperdine University.
“I don’t think you can create an equivalency of this film to Christian theology or Scripture,” Detweiler told The Christian Post. But “this is a film that deals with all kinds of forms of thinking about these issues. Is there one plan? Are there many plans? How do I find the plan? What if I get off the plan?”
The part sci-fi, part romance thriller stars Matt Damon playing the role of David Norris, a determined, charismatic politician who is well on his way toward becoming New York’s youngest senator.
On the eve of his election night, he meets by chance Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), a beautiful contemporary ballet dancer who is unlike any woman he’s ever known.
And chance, it seems, continues to bring them together, despite what the men in grey suits and hats – the agents of fate – have got to say about it.
The men of the Adjustment Bureau will do everything in their considerable power to prevent Norris and Sellas from being together.
Why? We’re not really sure either … but we know it’s got something to do with ultimate plans, inflection points, and a never-to-be-seen mysterious “Chairman.”
Much of the movie is encased in obscurities – like what exactly are the roles of the “caseworkers,” plan keepers, or whatever else you want to call them, and what is the extent of their power?
We know that water and hats limit their abilities, but even those details are not explained thoroughly, just like their ability to read choices, not minds, is not carefully explicated. We know that every single person has a caseworker, keeping them on track with “the Chairman’s” plans. But how do they do that?
Despite everyone else’s failures, however, Nolfi’s own plans and original intent for the film appear to be the only one preserved – a deluge of questions was in fact raised by the end of the movie, and some still-smitten feelings toward Damon.
He really did make a fine effort to chase his leading lady throughout the streets of New York and outrun fate with his own free will.
Immediately following the film, Detweiler asked the audience for their initial reactions, comments, and questions.
After much praise from a mostly Christian audience, one member voiced his concerns and apprehensions with the meat of the film: Is my will better than God’s will?
“No plan I could come up with could ever be better than God’s plan for me,” he expressed. Juxtaposing God’s omniscient, careful, and prudent plans beside man’s impulsive, feeling-based ones, he found the film to be somewhat dangerous, erring on the side of man.
To a degree, he favored “The Adjustment Bureau,” over the touchy-feely couple and their compassionate caseworker, Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), who aided Norris in defying “the plan,” following his heart, and getting to Sellas – in spite of all the obstacles the bureau placed ahead of him.
Although letting her go and following fate’s plan would bring Norris not only a seat in the Senate but also a future seat in the White House, with the chance to change the world, he made his decision to pursue Sellas, “come what may” – i.e. a posse of men in grey hats.
Perhaps it was this rash mentality that caused the audience member to question the validity of man’s feelings over the set path by “the Chairman.”
When Norris asks Thompson, “If I’m not supposed to be with her, then why do I feel like this?” Thompson responds, “It doesn’t matter how you feel, what matters is in black and white.”
So is it black and white? Are man’s feelings always too controlled by emotions that we need someone higher to step in and continually “adjust” our lives toward a better path than we could ever set out for ourselves? Do we have no say when God comes into play?
“It’s not this or that,” responded Detweiler. “Gamers understand this very well, this tension between predestination and free will. It seems like they may be able to live better with that tension.”
“Because every time they pick up the game they understand that there is an intelligent designer behind the game, and they understand that there is one end goal within the game.”
The Pepperdine professor continued, “But they also understand their own free will, and that the choices they make within the game determine how you get there. They understand that you have to play the game in order to get to the destination.”
The end of the movie touched upon this matter when it stated that free will wasn’t really free will if it wasn’t fought for. It appeared that ultimately, the movie wasn’t about “the plan” but about the journey toward the plan.
“I think this film gives a lot of room for people who say ‘you know sometimes the will of God seems hard.’ And I think it dignifies that legitimate question that you see in the Scripture,” Detweiler added. “Where you see Jesus in the garden wrestling with the will of God and saying this is tough, this is not easy. I feel that ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ dignifies questions that we all have of ‘the Chairman.’”
“And what’s nice about it is that it suggests perhaps our feelings can align with God’s will; that they don’t need to be in constant conflict; they can be, but they aren’t necessarily.”
Still, the apparent friction that co-exists between God’s will and man’s will continually befuddles nonbelievers and believers alike.
Charles Spurgeon said it perfectly when he preached, “That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.”
“These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.”
The simpler answer then, until that time, Detweiler revealed, is this: “I think we can clearly say that God is for you and not against you – that God loves you and that He cares about your decisions and your feelings.”
This response can be seen in the unraveling of the Chairman’s ultimate plans for Norris and Sellas in the film, if we haven’t given away too much already.
“Isn’t it great to think that at some point, we [can] become so in sync with the will of God that in a sense our free will lines up with God’s will? Isn’t that the moment when we’re sort of closest to heaven, closest to our calling, closest to who we’re created to be?” asked Detweiler.
Perhaps that was what was meant by the film’s last line, “Maybe one day, we won’t write the plan but you will.”
Either God’s way or man’s, or both in this case, “The Adjustment Bureau” is causing people to start asking some tough questions, ones that hopefully get to the bottom of the truth.
“The Adjustment Bureau” opens nationwide on March 4.