Film Review: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau, based on the short story “Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick, is an intricate look at fate, free will, love, choices, and chance. I loved it.


David Norris (Matt Damon) is a Congressman from New York running for Senator, and he is predicted to win by a landslide. However, he fouls it up at the last minute due to some dirt from his past. While writing and practicing his concession speech in the bathroom, he runs into Elise (Emily Blunt), and they hit it off and kiss. Then she runs off. He runs into her again on the bus a month later and their flirtation continues, ending with Elise giving David her number. This second meeting was not supposed to happen.

David arrives at his new job and discovers his coworkers and campaign manager frozen, with masked, suited men with strange equipment surrounding his friend. Understandably, he runs, but he cannot get away–one man, Richardson (John Slattery) somehow keeps cutting him off. He finally confronts David and tells him that he has “just seen through a curtain [he] wasn’t supposed to know existed,” that there is a plan for his life from which he must not deviate. He must not meet Elise again; they burn her phone number, and he does not know her last name. If he reveals their existence, they will reset his brain to “square one.”

Three years pass, and David has ridden the same bus every day for those three years, hoping to meet her again, until he finally happens upon her. Finally, things seem to begin to work between them–until Richardson shows up, and he’ll bring back up.

I won’t go too much further into it, but this final meeting sparks a head to head battle of wills between David and the Adjustment Bureau. They are determined, due to The Chairman’s plan, to intervene in David and Elise’s relationship. You do not deviate from The Plan.

This film delves into an interesting discussion of Fate versus Free Will, God and Angels, man’s choices and knowledge of what is best as opposed to submitting to a higher power. In this, God is characterized as an impersonal dictator who cares nothing for what the people want–until a bit of Deus ex Machina intervenes at the end. However, this also brings up the point: is God wrong? Is He immutable? Are even our attempts to buck against His plan all a part of that same plan?

The film wrestles with these questions and partially answers them, albeit with a pretty important aspect still solidly humanistically Hollywood–God’s plan is for your to pursue your own happiness and love. I don’t think that God is against that, per say, but is that really “The Plan”? Is that the point of all He does? It’s all about us, in the end.

I loved the movie because it brings some of these important questions into the public arena without sarcasm, or scorn. It’s also really well-written, with some witty dialogue; the plot is complex, fast-paced, funny, romantic, and with the exception of a small scene in bed and one instance of language, it’s a relatively clean movie.

Watch it. Discuss it. Enjoy it.

It’s really excellent.

4.5 out of 5 stars


2 thoughts on “Film Review: The Adjustment Bureau

  1. Good review — has me curious enough to see the film. Philip K. Dick is also one for really asking good questions in his stories.

    BTW, this kind of reminds me of the Observers in Fringe.

    • I thought of the Observers as well. It is a lot like that, even down to the dress code. I seriously loved this movie–to the point that I’m going to try and teach it next year.

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