July 3, 2012
Going in Circles
by Chris Flowers
In my mind, Philip K. Dick is pretty much the greatest science fiction author ever. From his pen we’ve received an onslaught of works that have been spun into classic movies: Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report are just a few examples. Recently, his story of an up-and-coming Senatorial candidate who finds himself the observer of men who carefully organize mankind’s existence so that it pans out in very specific ways was released on Blu-ray/DVD. It’s nicely directly and features some solid performances, but the screenplay is full of holes—so many, in fact, that it bears asking whether or not the thing was even finished when it ended up in the hands of director George Nolfi.
As indicated, The Adjustment Bureau is—for the most part—science fiction. One might classify it as a fantasy, though elements of both are present. More than anything, though, it’s a love story. When the previously mentioned politician is prevented from carrying out a relationship with a girl he bumped to after losing his most recent election bid, he does everything he can to defy the “powers that be.” Our protagonist feels driven (by nothing more complex than deep-seeded love) to spend his life with a girl he’d met only once, even after he’s informed that his “plan” calls for him to assume much higher duties that don’t involve said romantic interest (he is, in fact, scheduled to one day become President). Mr. Damon wants none of this, however, if he can’t have the girl.
And that’s the plot. Damon’s character darts around NYC, eluding obstacles placed along his route by the trench coat men of the enigmatic Bureau, occasionally exchanging dialogue with a rogue agent who believes the whole thing is a faulty endeavor. The philosophical and religious explorations related to free will are certainly thought-provoking, but these are never mined to their full extent. Likewise, we’re never given any concrete information about what the Bureau really is (and who its members really are). Are they spiritual entities? Aliens? Trans-dimensional beings? We never know, and these questions end up being more burdensome than any grander subtext that the screenwriters tried to weave into the script.
A lot of people would likely say that worrying about the origins of the Bureau is criminal, as that’s not really the focus of the film. I’d respond by saying there’s some truth to that, but the minimalist philosophical dabbling of the story coupled with the “yeah, right” factor that ultimately arises from the presence of the all-knowing men in black is too problematic to ignore.