'The Adjustment Bureau' and Free Will

New_Adjustment_Bureau_Poster_Good_Concept_1291086519The Adjustment Bureau, opening today, is a taut romantic thriller. Matt Damon stars as an up-and-coming young politician on the verge of a runaway victory for a U.S. Senate seat. His whole world caves in when a picture of him "mooning" at a fraternity reunion hits the front pages. This is the crowning blow to a candidate already known for getting in a bar fight the night of his election to the House, and other sketchy behavior. His campaign tanks and he is rehearsing his concession speech in the men's room, when out of one of the stalls walks Emily Blunt, who is hiding from hotel security for crashing a wedding reception.

Rather than making a quick departure, Blunt hangs around and engages the candidate in flirtatious banter, but then gets serious for a moment and challenges him to break away from his usual political bromides and speak from the heart. Thus starts the romantic part, which quickly collides with the thriller aspect when men in neat suits with shades and retro fedoras intervene to keep the two apart. They are assigned to Damon by "The Adjustment Bureau," which has other plans for him. They expect him to become president -- but without Blunt in his life. In fact, they inform him that if he chooses her over their plan, it will be disastrous for both of them.

It is apparent that these agents aren't of this world, but it is never clear what they are or where they are from. What is obvious is that they have powers that go way beyond the abilities of humans, and the tension builds as Damon repeatedly defies their plans by finding ways to locate Blunt and rekindle their romance. Does fate control his life or is he free?

In writing and directing this movie, George Nolfi treats the audience with respect. He gives us credit for being able to think for ourselves. Nolfi poses many questions, and gives no answers. But without being explicit, he lays out an exciting framework in which to consider free will. This is definitely not a Christian worldview movie, but it provides a wonderful vehicle for Christians to discuss these important issues with non-believer friends. And even among ourselves.

Nolfi asked Prison Fellowship to hold an advance screening of the movie with our staff and supporters near our national office. He wanted to see the impact the movie had on the audience, and he graciously answered questions after the screening. Just as in the film, he never gave us his own point of view but made clear that our discussions were exactly what he intended to provoke when he made the movie.

He told me he was very impressed by our audience. First, because they were so polite, and second because they noticed several of the subtle things in the movie, such as the role of water and the absence of a countervailing force to the Bureau.

Andrew Breitbart has written an excellent piece about the movie that I hope you will read. But more importantly, I recommend that you see the movie. Take your spouse and/or some friends, and plan to grab a cup of coffee or a meal afterward to engage in great discussion.

(Image copyright Universal Studios)


Wow - Pat Nolan??!!?
I was going to make an "I knew you were going to post about this" joke, but now I feel a bit intimidated.

I just got back from seeing the movie with my wife, and it is indeed very thought-provoking. Focusing as it does on a romance with an enormous hurdle to overcome, it makes for a great date movie. But the hurdle means that this is not a syrupy flick; it seriously asks what sacrifices one should make for one's true love.

And that may be why *Christian* audiences are a particular target; we hear that question answered at least at Easter time, if not more often.

It's a pity the film earns the rating it has, but that's Hollywood for you.

There is an excellent moment in one of Gayle Erwin's teaching videos where he recounts how Jesus came upon the apostles when they were arguing with each other. Gayle asks what it is we might expect these followers of God-in-the-flesh to be arguing about; one possibility is the question of predestination vs. free moral agency. But alas, they're arguing about which of them is the greatest.

One can only hope that Christians who see this movie will think deeply about the themes and the questions they raise, rather than focusing on shallow topics. And the movie could indeed be an evangelistic tool.

Finally, I'm delighted that PFM staffers get early screenings of movies. They work incredibly hard in a very difficult ministry, so they deserve every perk they can get.

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