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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
In 2011, The Adjustment Bureau starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt was released. I never got around to seeing it when it came out because it seemed like just another thriller like Bourne Identity. And on top of that, I don’t really like Matt Damon these days. It wasn’t until a month or so ago that I realized it is based off a short story from my favorite science fiction author, Philip K. Dick. After that I immediately became interested and pursued my local video rental store, Mokena Video.
The Adjustment Team, a short story published in 1954 and reprinted many years after that, is very similar to the movie. I love reading all of Dick’s works for many reasons: the prominent philosophical and religious ideas, the idea that there exists another dimension- a sort of hope or desperation, man and humanity, and much more. The story is much shorter than the movie. I love short stories because they are dense, and I have hard time staying focused on longer novels unless I’m REALLY into it. Regardless, I read the short story first and was intrigued and pleased.
To us, there is the past, the present, and the future, but in the short story and in this movie, the whole time-and-space continuum is changeable. There’s a top-secret agency that can alter what is going to happen. The short story starts with an area of city that is meant to be “adjusted” by Clerks, including all people within it, according to some God figures “plans”. I’m trying to make this as easy to understand, so I apologize if I’m diminishing the story’s value.
A man, Ed, is meant to be included in the area but a Clerk, responsible for the adjustment, fails to summon him to the area on time, thus preventing him from being adjusted. Similar to the butterfly affect, the small daily decisions affect the entire world at potentially drastic levels. Every little decision matters. Except in this case and important decisions, Clerks set up scenarios favoring certain decisions. Anyway, Ed then careens into the adjusted area, while it is being worked on, exposing the agents in the middle of their scheme, and he’s immediately seized in terror. To the Clerks, this is a total red alert and they need to pursue and silence. No one’s supposed to know about the adjustments, you see. The main character realizes that there are higher forces at work in our world, making changes and adjusting decisions. Upon this realization, he flees and notifies his wife. She attempts to calm him down, set him straight on his path to work. Soon, he’s brought to the “Old Man” (a God figure) via a supernatural doorway by one of the Clerks. Ed is told to never speak of this knowledge since these higher-ups make changes for the betterment of mankind. The Old Man exposes that the adjustment being made will allow a new nationwide scientific community to prosper without political or ill will. The Old Man clarifies that though they modify life, it will make life better for all. Ed agrees to never speak of this newfound knowledge and after a trial from his wife trying to pry the truth out, the story ends. It is short, succinct, and sweet. I loved it and it is very Dickian: an altered reality, an overpowering body, and that what we know isn’t all that is there.
Hesitant, but also open-minded, I thought The Adjustment Bureau (the movie) was going to be a bash on free-will, destiny, and the role of fate with a stupid love story thrown in for Hollywood satiation. The movie follows a very similar premise to Dick’s story. A male politican running for senator, Matt Damon, is on track to win an election until a tabloid publishes an disparaging photo. His chances of victory are eliminated, and he stumbles upon Emily Blunt in which their encounter provokes him to make the most down-to-earth political speech which then, after a notification from the Clerks, catapults him into a future presidential campaign. The Clerks have big plans for him, and the God-figure or “Chairman” who decides that Damon will be a great political figure, reaching the presidency. The conflict that gives rise to the story is that he falls in love with Blunt’s character when they were only meant to meet once, but due to what appears to be a chance encounter they see each other again. This breaks apart the predestined fate and alarms the Chairman, setting in motion a required correction. The Clerks repeatedly threaten Damon and attempt to interrupt his encounters with the girl, saying that he is not to speak with her anymore or they’ll erase his mind. He continues to pursue her because he loves her and something else draws them together.
The director of the film, George Nolfi, set out to ask and provoke questions, not to show his opinions or feelings. He did an accomplished job, collectively taking a bias-free opinion. Different motions in the film sway the viewer to believing that it is wrong to blindly follow fate, whatever it may be, and then swiftly changing the mood making us believe that fate brings us the most happiness.
Regardless, the movie was great. It followed the rules set in the novel. It didn’t belittle or get any points wrong, and thus, showed respect for our hero Philip K. Dick who brought us many ideas of alternate realities. During the movie I was really hoping the director wouldn’t take any jabs at the faults of fate or predestination. I’ll make my own decisions, you just present the scenario. Just from the trailer I thought it was simply the couple yelling at these higher ups or Clerks claiming “I don’t care what’s fate. I like her and she likes me and I want us to be together dammit!”. That wasn’t the case and possibly the result of my apathy for the trailer.
I find the abbreviation of the short story allowing for more imaginative and vague ideas. The reader decides the implications and Dick is simply setting forth a hypothetical idea (or perhaps a truly believed world in Dick’s mind) that the reader can explore on his own. On the other hand, the movie proposes questions, provides intriguing evidence for each decision, and ultimately voids the questions, saying that true love can break fate and that no party of thought may be best. All in all, both the short story and movie are fantastic. They are both truly science fiction with extraordinary ideas. I enjoyed the out-there ideas, the possibility of alternate realities, supposed angels, and the hope for a different world exposed. I highly recommend both, as they both explore these ideas thoroughly while providing a great source of entertainment.