Due to an overwhelming need to embrace my inner hermit the last few weeks I have forgone my usual weekend gallivanting in favor of staying home with movies. It might seem as if I’m turning into a cat lady (I prefer dogs) who hopes to find solace in the virtual arms of Tom Hardy or Gerard Butler while I contemplate my Bridget Jones-esque death at the mangled jowls of a wild pack of voracious coyotes, but in all honestly there is just something comforting in spending Friday nights with a lover who is always in bed next to you – the remote control. I like to call my endless supply of romance, sex comedies, erotic thrillers, and documentaries “research” for this column, and that’s why it’s completely acceptable for me to leave my desk Friday at 5PM to watch whatever is inside that little red envelope.
But this week I needed something different. Instead of a film about French sexploitation or sex in the Australian outback, I wanted a more mainstream offering. I desired a pretty film with the hint of romance but the full adrenaline rush of a psychological thriller. I also wanted to indulge my blazing Emily Blunt crush. Again, in the name of research.
The Adjustment Bureau spoke to me, and while I expected it to be nothing more than a diet version of Inception meets Dark City (which it was), I was surprised by the questions it raised about free will and love. Can we truly have free will when a destiny is already planned? Possibly, at least that’s what I pulled out of my undergrad philosophy classes. But more importantly, why does a cinema couple always have to be threatened with the dissolution of their individual dreams if they choose to fight the odds and remain together? Wouldn’t the ultimate have-it-all fantasy actually, you know, allow the couple to have it all?
Congressman David Norris (Matt Damon) is meant for great things—the fates know this. He has progressed through the New York City political world at a breakneck speed, going from councilman to Congressman in under a decade. Now, on the night of his losing attempt to take a vacant senate seat he meets Elise Sellas (Blunt) in the men’s bathroom after she catches him polishing his concession speech. She doesn’t know him personally, but she knows of him and believes in his abilities. They are both smitten, exchanging longing glances through a mirror and wanting more than this brief moment in time. After a spontaneous kiss Elise flees the bathroom and hotel with fedora-wearing men hot on her trail. David feels empty, his new muse gone, however inspired to make an honest appearance to his constituents.
Months later Fate reluctantly pushes them together again, and we start to learn that while these two were obviously in love at first sight, there is something outside their control forcing them apart. After four years of coincidental meetings the Adjustment Men’s motive is finally revealed. These two were meant for each other, but their all-consuming love would never allow for David to be Senator and Elise to be a world famous dancer and choreographer. If together, they would instead suffer the Love Fool’s lowly punishment of happiness without security. And according to “the plan” this is not acceptable.
From this point a textbook example of Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy involving free will versus destiny takes precedence. In the world of The Adjustment Bureau man has had too many chances to pick his own destiny, and now he must accept the truth through “divine help” and “that the intellect may be moved by God to its act.” (Summa Thelogica, St. Thomas Aquinas) In lay terms, man is only free once he realizes he has a predetermined outcome with variable passageways to get there. But in this case, love between Elise and David is not one of those passageways. Their love is an all-encompassing, destructive one. And it’s Fate’s job to steer them as far apart from each other as possible,
This is where I start to take issue with The Adjustment Bureau. Why, once the couple battles life and limb to be together, proving to The Adjustment Men they can and should be allowed to choose their own outcomes, are we left thinking they still had to give up their individual career goals?
Their personal ambitions combined with the power of their soulmate love make them a more powerful force rather than suggest they would fall victim to passion. David’s second handler Thompson (Terrance Stamp) tries unconvincingly to point out to his coworker Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie) that David’s whole career is grounded in his need to fix his family’s death. Thompson suggests if that passion is turned from righteous fury to calm love he would lose his desire to save others. But, as he is one-dimensional, Thompson doesn’t understand that love would actually offer the potential power couple a better chance at saving a community. The film has an ample opportunity to drive this issue home, a chance many similar films fail to even consider, but when push comes to shove all we get is an ambiguous ending where the couple stays together without mention of their professional destiny.
Maybe I’m just too sensitive to Hollywood’s love punishment, something that started with the best of the Golden Era’s big budget films, but I feel The Adjustment Bureau could have offered a better modern fantasy. If David and Elise got to have both their passionate love and their ambitious careers, wouldn’t that have been something to actually aspire to? or is that a reality only a truly romantic film could offer?