Saturday, April 09, 2011

Film review of The Adjustment Bureau: a theology beyond fearful puppetry

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of the most common contemporary films, each with a theological perspective, (over 60) back to 2005 can be found here.

A contextual note: This review was written the weekend that a New Zealand magician, Ken Ring, was predicting that based on the moon, a major earthquake would occur again in Christchurch. Are we fearful puppets in the hands of an angry world? Or are there other ways to be human?

The Adjustment Bureau
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

The Adjustment Bureau (directed by George Nolfi) is adapted from a short story by Philip K Dick. Find a star like Matt Damon and the movie hints at being “Mr-Bourne-meets-Inception.” Sadly, the mix of action and animation is gloss for a turgid philosophical rumination on the relationship between free will and chance.

Life on earth is controlled by the “adjustment bureau.” They walk our streets, clasping black books complete with the chosen destiny in which humans must walk.

This includes the young and talented David Norris (Matt Damon). His life plan requires an “adjustment,” a casual spilling of coffee, in order that he miss a bus and thus arrive late for work. The “adjustment” fails and the life of Matt begins to go off plan.

Catching the bus, David meets the young and equally talented Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). Love beckons and a phone number is exchanged. Arriving at work on time, David stumbles onto the “adjustment bureau” in action, manipulating minds in order to engineer a chosen destiny.

This lengthy introduction sets up a number of plot tensions. Will David and Emily fall in love? How will David respond to his glimpse of the “adjustment bureau”? Do humans have free will?

A lengthy monologue explains “adjustment-theology.” In the beginning, a god upstairs gave humans free will. The result is a lengthy string of human disasters, from the Dark Ages to World Wars to global warming.

Hence the need for divine intervention, for “adjustments”, a bureau full of parent figures who control our lives with the task of making the world a better place.

Such “adjustment-theology” occurs in contrast to a moving scene (pun intended) in which Emily dances. As she does, the representative from the “adjustment bureau” offers David a choice. Without Elise (Emily Blunt), his chosen destiny will be President of the United States. The two men talk, caught in a world of logic and binary choice.

Meanwhile, Elise dances. This physical movement of fluid grace, her body supported by the strength of her partner, offers a different way to think about the relationship between divine and human, between destiny and free will.

The early church described God using the Greek word perichoresis. It is the root of the word choreography and was used to imagine God as a dancer, celebrating life in a mutual sharing of love and grace.

In the act of creation, rather than one chosen destiny, humans are instead invited into a dance – with each other, with God and with God’s creation. When history demonstrated that humans are better at stomping on feet than moving in response to God’s embrace, God intervened, not with an “adjustment bureau” but in Jesus, who enters creation and begins again the dance of life.

It provides a sharp contrast to the “adjustment bureau,” all men, all dressed mysteriously in dark suits.

It provides another contrast to responses to earthquakes, in which blame is apportioned to God, or humans (who have not listened to God), or the moon. Instead the dance invites us to move in grace and freedom no matter how shaken or stirred we might feel.

Posted by steve at 11:08 AM

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.