Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau is a romantic thriller with a sci-fi/fantasy premise.  The world is directed by an organization of bureaucratic nerds in small brim fedoras who keep things going “on plan.”  It’s for our own good – when they step back, things like WWII and the Cuban Missile Crisis happen.

Matt Damon plays Norris, a politician on the fast track to the White House whose path through life needs a bit of adjustment now and then – he’s too impulsive.  If he stays on track, he can save the world, maybe.  He meets Elise (Emily Blunt) another impulsive type and they fall for one another – that’s not in the plan…or is it?

In the original short story by Phillip Dick, Damon’s character was a real estate salesman, but this is Hollywood.  That would have fit better with the satirical edge to the premise, the black humor inherent in learning that our ‘free will’, all our strivings, are guided by dull men (all men) in charcoal grey suits who look like they missed the 7:20 from Long Island, c. 1964.  If it weren’t for Ms. Blunt, the movie would fall flat:  she’s wonderfully sexy, and she and Damon make a great pair of romantic seekers in the world that isn’t what it seems.

A lot of the effects are clever, I love the emphasis on hats – they are an essential element in the Adjusters’ uniform – and many scenes are in grand NYC office spaces that I’ve always found a bit ominous and oppressive – glad to know it isn’t just me and my paranoia!  Terrence Stamp is marvelous as Satan figure known as “The Hammer.”  He’s a bit unsubtle in his adjustments.

Which brings up the Big Questions:  God, predestination, fate, free will, etc.  These are just mentioned, but a lot of reviewers seem to feel that this is what the movie is about – I think it’s just the device that gets it all going, nothing more.  The entire idea of the story is preposterous on the character level.  After being informed of The Truth, and warned that if he tells anyone, his brain will be “reset,” i.e. erased, Norris goes on with his life.  No depression, no strange changes in behavior, no suicidal thoughts?  It’s the equivalent of being abducted by aliens, and he just accepts it and carries on.  Not likely.  Nor does he ask much – never inquires, “Just what is the plan?”

The director said that “The film asks questions – that’s what art is supposed to do.”   Leaving aside the fact that for most of human history, asking questions is pretty much the last thing art was supposed to do, the characters in this film ask remarkably few.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun to watch.

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10 Responses to Adjustment Bureau

  1. Guy Savage says:

    The whole HATS thing made me think of Jean-Pierre Melville and his perennial gangster outfits for his characters.

    If you have a kindle (?) there are several Dick short stories available for FREE.

  2. pancime says:

    I am reminded of a real-life situation, as depicted by Charles Buller in relation to the British colonies in 1840:
    ‘Probably married at an early age, he has to support and educate a large [78] family out of his scanty though sure income. Once or twice a year he dines with his principal – perhaps as often with some friend in Parliament or high office. But the greater part of his days are passed out of all reach of aristocratic society: he has a modest home in the outskirts of London, with an equally modest establishment: and the colonist who is on his road to “the Office,” little imagines that it is the real ruler of the Colonies that he sees walking over one of the Bridges, or driving his one-horse chay, or riding cheek by jowl with him on the top of the short coach as he goes into town of a morning. Mr. MOTHERCOUNTRY’S whole heart is in the business of his office.’
    Buller was considered too fond of joking around to have a future in Westminster. His ‘Responsible Government For Colonies’ shows it.

  3. Man of Roma says:

    You make me want to watch this movie. Hope it will be shown here. I want to see, among the rest, the grand NYC office spaces that you’ve always found ‘ominous’. I wonder what you’re referring to. This Phillip Dick, despite his last name lol, was a great writer. Do you have the complete collection of his novels and stories btw?

    • Lichanos says:

      I read a few of his shorts online, and they seemed unremarkable to me. Pretty much like the stuff I used to devour as a kid when all I read was sci-fi. They were published in the pulp fantasy ‘zines.

      I’ll try one or two of his later novels to see what’s what.

      …that you’ve always found ‘ominous’. I wonder what you’re referring to. Hallways in the NY Public Library – a wonderful, lovely place, but all that marble! The Metropolitan Life Insurance building at 23rd St – sandstone ziggurat in Manhattan and one of the largest buildings in NYC. That’s what I can recall from the film this morning.

      When I first lived in NYC, I used to make a ‘game’ of trying to get into famous buildings. In those days, you could at least see the lobby – not like today where you are often prompted for ID at the door. I would spin a tale of being an grad student in architectural history – not too far from the truth – and try to get upstairs to the meeting rooms, etc. Once, I simply got in the elevator of the Chrysler Building, under restoration then, and rode up to the 50th floor or so. Wanted to see the layout, the columns, the window and heating details. Today, if I tried that, I would be wrestled to the floor, I’m sure.

      • Surely a peculiar guy you are, in the good sense. I would have done the same thing. NYC has always impressed me for its … massive power. I spent some time there, also by myself. And of course I have unforgettable memories of the River Café and other places, like a deconsecrated church turned into a gothic techno place for dancing (a British techno band was just outstanding). A dear schoolmate of mine, a Roman (well, his father was Milanese) Jewish lawyer, spent something like a couple of years there. So when I went for the first time I had a LONG list of places from him. Those 2 places I mentioned, and others I forgot. It was more than 20 years ago. Sadly I spent some time in one of the Twin towers because I had some work contacts there.

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