The Adjustment Bureau

Pass the Popcorn and Ask the Questions

Predestination, free will . . . these are hardly topics you’d expect to see Hollywood take on.

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Chuck  Colson
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In the February issue of GQ, Mark Harris tells the story of “The Day the Movies Died.”

By “died,” Harris doesn’t mean that Hollywood is going out of business. Instead, he means that “the majority of studio movies are aimed” at men under 25, whom, evidence suggests, will watch anything “as long as it’s spiked with the proper set of stimulants.” If you’re not an immature male, there’s increasingly little for you to see at the movies.

This is doubly true for thoughtful Christians. The vast majority of Hollywood fare leaves the Christian viewer feeling like he needs to confess his sins, or has killed billions of his brain cells. Even in the case of most “serious” films, with their nihilism or their banality, all there is to say is “don’t bother to go.”

Thankfully, there are exceptions like the new film The Adjustment Bureau. The movie, based on a short story by science-fiction writer Phillip K. Dick, tells your classic “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy tries to get girl back” story, but with a twist -- a twist indebted to the Christian worldview.

In the film, Matt Damon plays David, a congressman who loses his first senate bid. While preparing his concession speech, he meets Elise, played by Emily Blunt, with whom he shares an attraction. Inspired by her, he re-writes his speech in a way that makes him more popular.

Four years later, they meet again on a bus, and their attraction is re-kindled. But when David arrives at work he is told by mysterious agents of the Adjustment Bureau that he and Elise were never meant to be together. “The Chairman” has something much more important planned for David.

What follows is an entertaining ride that columnist Terry Mattingly sums up as “John Calvin caught in ‘The Matrix,’ wrestling with caseworkers from ‘Men in Black.’”

It’s a ride that is deeply indebted to Christianity. While he avoids specific religious references, writer-director George Nolfi acknowledged that at the heart of the story is the “conception of an all-powerful and all-knowing Higher Power that is also good . . .”

Of course, that conception is very specific: It only makes sense if the “Higher Power” being depicted is the God of the Bible.

Likewise, the issue of free will versus predestination is a debate that the West inherited from Christianity. When Nolfi says that “good and evil don’t mean much if you don’t have any free will,” he is reiterating the message of Christians handed down through the millennia.

You may not agree with the way The Adjustment Bureau resolves these issues, but you have to applaud Nolfi for taking them on in the first place. Not only because he depicts a purposeful and intelligent universe, but because his film provides a chance to discuss the questions and issues raised by believing in such a universe.

And prompting these kinds of discussions is the best we can hope for from a trip to the multiplex. Unfortunately, these kinds of experiences are increasingly rare, which is why we should appreciate efforts like The Adjustment Bureau all the more.

As always, use judgment before going to the movies. The Adjustment Bureau is rated PG-13 for mild profanity and one suggestive situation.

But it may get you into some interesting conversations with your non-believing friends.

Further Reading and Information

Angels and Damon (and free will)
Terry Mattingly | GetReligion.org | March 07, 2011

Divine Sovereignty or Mere Adjustment?
Jason Stellman | The Reformed Arsenal | March 14, 2011