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The Adjustment Bureau | Movie Review

As noted previously on this blog, Philip K Dick’s stories have inspired numerous motion picture adaptations. Another member of that long list is the 2011 American film “The Adjustment Bureau” which was loosely based on short story named “Adjustment Team“. The film revolves around the well-publicised American notion of the “Big Brother is watching you“. It also briefly discusses the concept of Free will but if we were to pick a one-liner description for this film, it would be “Everything is Planned“.

Movie :
The Adjustment Bureau
Producer : George Nolfi, Chris Moore, Michael Hackett, Bill Carraro, Isa Dick Hackett, Joel Viertel
Director :
George Nolfi
Screenplay :
Based On : Adjustment Team by
Music By : Thomas Newman
Production Companies : Media Rights Capital, Gambit Pictures, Electric Shepherd Productions
Distributed by : Universal Pictures
Cinematography : John Toll
Editor : Jay Rabinowitz
Released On :
Starring : Matt Damon (David Norris), Emily Blunt (Elise Sellas), Anthony Mackie (Harry Mitchell), John Slattery (Richardson), Michael Kelly (Charlie Traynor), Terence Stamp (Thompson), Donnie Keshawarz (Donaldson), Anthony Ruivivar (McCrady), David Bishins (Burdensky), Jennifer Ehle (a bartender), Jessica Lee Keller (Lauren), and other…
Purchase Links : The Adjustment Bureau
The Adjustment Bureau
Adjustment Team
Adjustment Team: Short Story

It is 2006 and young and dynamic David Norris (Matt Damon) is on brink of becoming a senate man when he loses the election due to publishing of an impulsive act from his high school days. He is all prepared to give a nicely measured defeat speech, when he meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). After their short but sparkling encounter, he ends up giving a ‘not-so-proper’ speech which is loved by public and he is back in the game for 2010 elections.

Even electoral candidates have to earn living and David accepts to work for his friend Charlie Traynor. Meanwhile, we get a glimpse of a group of mysterious men in bowler hats. One of them Harry Mitchell is assigned with task to make David late on his first day of work. But this doesn’t go as expected and David boards the bus he was supposed to miss. He meets Elise again. But his euphoria of finding her again vanishes when he arrives to office in time to witness something strange. As Mr. Richardson in bowler hat explains to him, “He has glimpsed behind a curtain, he was not supposed to know existed in first place“.

Apparently, the guys in bowler hats work in “The Adjustment Bureau” and are charged with the task of making sure everything goes as planned, by “The Chairman”. They have mysterious books that track human lives and they have ability to sense their decisions. These guys do their best to explain that David has to keep his mouth shut about the Bureau and that he is never supposed to meet Elise again. David accepts since he doesn’t seem to have any other choice.

Three years have passed. David is running for the senate again. But it is in human nature to crave what is forbidden. And David has still not stopped thinking about Elise. He has been travelling on the same bus for three years with a hope of meeting her again. And he does spot her on the street. He goes after her and sends the whole adjustment bureau crew into another panic attack. Beating the guys in their own game, he manages to meet her again. The chemistry between them has this mysterious pull on both sides and they fall in love almost immediately.

But this is not as per plan. And the adjustment bureau operatives do manage to separate them again using some good-old emotional blackmail tricks. One more year passes, but they still can’t stop thinking about each other. And it is on Elise’s wedding day that David decides to take the final plunge and confront the chairman himself/herself.

What is it between them? Why can’t he stop thinking about her and why can’t he have the one woman he thinks he loves? What is the plan? And most important of all, if everything is planned and if human beings are nothing but puppets on strings, what about the freedom of choice / a free will? Does real life exist as we perceive it or is it just an elaborate show?

In addition to depicting the western fascination about the state spying on individual lives, the hypothesis here deeply echoes Eastern concepts of life as well. The notion of humans being puppets on a large screen, being just a part of a bigger picture or drama is not so new after all. Remember how religious preachers keep talking about this all being Maya and not real. How we are taught in East about everything being pre-destined, that we are born with a Fate that we can’t change, that ‘jab jab jo jo hona hai, tab tab so so hota hai‘. Pursuing the same line of thought, some of the dialog in the film can be interpreted to mean than “The chairman” represents an omnipotent/omniscient being like God while the guys in bowler hats are his angels.

We liked the film as it is, but it does leave a feeling of unanswered questions and unmet potential of the story idea. It could have been more daring, more exploratory and more complex than it currently is. While it tries to give a message about finding love against all odds and fighting for it, it leaves a lot of loose ends in the Free Will domain. Interestingly, while in the released version of the film the end is open to conjectures, director George Nolfi had also prepared an alternate ending with the chairman actually coming in the picture.

Interesting Facts:
  • Nolfi, talked about alternative endings for the film later. He was interested in showing “the chairman” at the end. He have visualised the chairman as a female character.(Reference)
  • The actress who have played that role have something different to say in this interview.
Quick purchase links:

The film received good response upon release and is now available on DVD. Worth watching….

Curtsey: Poster – WikiPedia, Trailer – YouTube

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