The Adjustment Bureau

Last Friday we watched the new Matt Damon movie, The Adjustment Bureau, which I thought was going to be much more like Inception than it turned out to be.

Briefly, David Norris (Damon) is on track to become New York’s youngest senator, when he has a chance meeting with the woman of his dreams. As he seeks to find her again, he discovers the Adjustment Bureau, a behind the scenes organization of non-human operatives who keep track of everyone — making sure they all proceed in accordance with their “Chairman’s” plan.  Unfortunately for Norris, the Chairman’s plan doesn’t include him and the mystery woman ever getting together and the story is about how he fights that plan in going after her, essentially attempting to write his own destiny. Ultimately this is the “message” the film leaves us with: that we must fight for what we want to do, to achieve our own destiny in order to really be free.

At least… I think that’s what the message was.

At first it seems that this is a movie about destiny, about God’s plan for our lives, about how unseen agents are moving and shaping us along the tracks we’re supposed to follow. The AB guys have a book which they consult to keep them on track with respect to the actions their charges take — whether such actions are part of the plan or not. And there is that Chairman up there (at the top of a New York skyscraper apparently), who has many names, one of which is “God”.  There are special doors that lead into another world and back to ours, and the caseworkers have special powers that enable them to manipulate the environment of their charges, all of which could be taken for angelic ministers, shepherding us on our way.

Except of course… Jesus doesn’t figure into any of this. His name is only mentioned in the usual way it’s mentioned in Hollywood movies…as an expletive. And the Plan changes each time someone does something outside it, so that the agents are constantly playing catch up, trying to “clean up this mess,” and get things back on the track they’re supposed to be on. Not exactly the way God does things.

So, on the one hand, it’s cool that the film is going to cause some people to think about God and His plan, about free will, about their decisions, etc… But on the other, it’s annoying that they make God and his agents so inept. And weird because it when you get down to it, the movie’s set up and even resolution really implies we have no free will at all — only what the agents allow us to have. Like unwitting cattle we are moved about as they desire, oblivious to their manipulation. The exceptions are a few, stubborn, passionate individuals  (like Norris) who manage to break out of the track that has been laid for them and follow their own plan…

Ick.

We’ve spent the last month studying the Divine Decrees in Bible Class. Thinking about God’s awesome power. Reflecting on how He knew simultaneously all the plans there ever could be and all their courses, successions, outworkings in every detail. Every detail. He knows every decision every one of us has ever made and ever will, and every decision we would have made, had circumstances been different. And out of all of those options, He chose the best, the one that will provide our highest blessing and His glory. It buries the Keystone Cops stuff that’s put forth in The Adjustment Bureau.

Moreover, as I said, the real plan all hinges on Jesus: “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is He?”

God has shut all of us up in sin so He can have mercy on us all. And His mercy is the fact that He sent His son to die for the sins of every one of us, believers and unbelievers alike. All we have to do is choose to believe. Or to reject. In the end those who have rejected Christ, the only sin He couldn’t die for, will stand before the Great White Throne and give an account for why they rejected the work of Christ, and provide whatever they think they have to offer God that could possibly compare with what He’s done.

Of course none of that was in the movie.

Because really, the movie wasn’t about God, in my view.  Early on my take in watching it was that the Adjustment Bureau couldn’t be God’s organization – there was no grace, for one. No, I think it’s a great illustration of Satan’s organization.  The Adjustment Bureau is the kingdom of darkness, the rulers and principalities mentioned in Ephesians. The agents going about trying to make sure people don’t find out what God’s plan for their life is, and seeking to impose the plan their Chairman has written. Yes, they are presented in some cases as appealing, nice, trying to be helpful, etc,  even as they have no idea what they’re doing. One is guilt ridden for some of the things he’s had to do to Norris’s parents. And many of them even wonder if what they are doing is right.

But the strength of a counterfeit lies in its closeness of form to the thing it is counterfeiting. And Satan’s many systems always incorporate ministers of light, and deception and confusion.

I cannot imagine any of God’s elect angels  wondering if what they are doing is right. Or feeling guilty. Or going against His directive will. Or any of that.  The agents in the film spend much of the time blundering around. They threaten and intimidate and lie…

But God is not the author of confusion. God is not taken by surprise. He’s not up there going, “Oh no, Norris got off track! I didn’t foresee that! He must not kiss that woman or disaster will ensue! You guys get down there and clean that up!” He’s not up there going, “Oh, gee, I had a plan for you, David Norris, but I see now that your plan is far better than what I came up with and since you are sooo insistent… I’m going to give you what you want.

Paul was insistent. He was going to Jerusalem to see his people and never mind that God told him not to go three times in a row. He was going. So he went. And ended up imprisoned in Rome for years as discipline because of it. Granted, God used that to allow him to witness to the Praetorium Guardsmen he was chained to, and to write half the New Testament, but that only shows how God can take our messes and make blessing out of them, not that we have any business writing our own destinies.

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6 Responses to “The Adjustment Bureau”


  1. 1 shepherdesswrites August 1, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    This is an excellent observation of the movie. I’d not made the connection because I was convinced that the writers were trying to say something about God. In fact, regardless of their intent, I think you are correct in your observation that they said a lot more about the forces of evil.
    Good reflection and a good read.

  2. 2 Rebecca LuElla Miller August 2, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I’ve become convinced that the one distinctive of Christian fiction (in any form) is the fact that we alone can tell the truth about God.

    Becky

    • 3 karenhancock August 2, 2011 at 8:53 pm

      I don’t know that I would limit it to Christian fiction, Becky, but certainly only a Christian is going to be able to tell the truth about God. The natural or soulish man (that is, an unbeliever) “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them.” Only a Christian has the proper tools — the new nature, the personal ministry of God the Holy Spirit, the ability to understand the Word — to come to know who God is and tell the truth about Him. This is not to say that all Christians use their tools, however…

      • 4 Rebecca LuElla Miller August 4, 2011 at 9:30 am

        Agreed. If Christian fiction is restricted to that which a publisher belonging to the ECPA produces, then that would not be broad enough. I know I’m operating outside what is normally understood by “Christian fiction,” but I stumbled on this as I was writing a blog post at Spec Faith — regardless of what we say Christian fiction is, there is only one thing Christians can write about that sets us apart from others — the truth about God, either His person, plan, or work in the world.

        Christians and non-Christians alike can write moral fiction or gritty, “realistic” fiction or good vs. evil fiction. But when non-Christians speak about God they will not speak the truth because they do not know Him. Christians alone can speak the truth about God.

        Not that Christians have to speak about God in our fiction. (But then their work wouldn’t be Christian fiction; it would be fiction written by a Christian).

        More than you cared to know about my thoughts on the subject, I’m sure. :roll:

        Becky

        • 5 karenhancock August 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm

          “More than you cared to know…”

          Not at all, Becky. I appreciate the elaboration, and agree totally. The point I was trying to make, and clearly failing, was that Christian non-fiction also tells the truth about God. But maybe that’s such a “duh!” that it goes without saying. LOL.

  3. 6 Rebecca LuElla Miller August 4, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    :lol: I think that was me being all locked into fiction.

    Well, yes, Christians can and should also tell the truth about God in our non-fiction. And once again, only we can do so.

    Thanks, Karen.

    Becky


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