Posted on March 9th, 2011
After seeing The Adjustment Bureau last night, I decided to read the story it’s based on – “Adjustment Team”, by Philip K. Dick. A strange experience on both counts.
I’d seen trailers, so I knew the movie was about some guy who gets involved with a group of sinister guys in fedoras who reveal to him that free will is not what he thought it was. Guess I’ll stick in a SPOILER ALERT here… I will try not to ruin the plot for you if you don’t know much about it, but I can’t guarantee I won’t let small details slip – ones you may or may not care about.
Notes on The Adjustment Bureau:
- Skye and I agreed that the movie focused a lot more on the romance (between the Matt Damon’s and Emily Blunt’s characters) than we expected.
- The dialogue at the beginning was good. Witty repartee between the protagonists when they meet, easy-to-like-and-listen-to characters, humourous moments, cool speech by Matt as he concedes defeat in his senate race.
- Once the Adjustment folks entered into it, suddenly (I felt) the writing faltered. I assume the writing is at fault when otherwise decent actors start to sound like they’re in a bad school play. (It probably didn’t help that Sean and I rented The Social Network the other night, which is chock-a-block with fast-paced, savvily original, cliché-busting discourse.)
- The speech by the most sinister Bureau fellow, discussing why humans need Adjusting, was, well, naive. I think it was supposed to be chilling, on the order of: After the Roman Empire, we left you people to your own devices and you gave us the Dark Ages… we stepped back in and you got the Renaissance and the Enlightenment… when we stepped back out, you came to world war, Depression, and Holocaust, and you brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster… I get the point, those were indeed some big screwups on the part of humans, but this analysis is so Western-centric as to be archaic and gag-worthy. Where were Africa, the Middle East, and almost all of Asia during all this? For that matter, what about the people whose free will led them to do extraordinarily brave and heroic things during all those catastrophic times? Anyway, I’m harping.
- I hate to be a complainer (uh-oh, am I actually becoming movie-critical?), but I think this same immaturity afflicted the movie in general. There are lots of vague, mysterious references to the structure and functioning of the Adjustment system that are not followed through and that don’t even seem to be fully thought-out – something you can get away with in a short story, but not necessarily in a full-length movie. I want to feel confident that at least the writer knew exactly what he was talking about, even if he doesn’t tell me all of it.
- Also, George Nolfi, did you set the whole movie in NYC just so you could have a character make a big free-will choice in front of the Statue of Liberty? If so, ouch. You need to work on your subtlety.
- All this being said… I felt this movie was worth watching. A lot because of Matt Damon’s smile, which is just as blindingly fantastic as always.
- And I didn’t know that Emily Blunt is a dancer – because she isn’t. She never danced before taking on this role… but I would never have guessed. I have watched (and done) a lot of dancing in my day, and I was amazed. Her dance scenes were worth the price of admission.
As for the story, “Adjustment Team”, by Philip K. Dick (oh yes, more bullets, you know I have to):
- It has almost nothing to do with romance – the protagonist is married but if he once risked his life to be with his wife, no-one mentions it.
- This wife is casually, naturally, nauseatingly objectified. She is sort of a person – enough to get worried about her husband having psychotic episodes and become somewhat hysterical – but mostly it’s about how her breasts move up and down when she’s agitated or walking briskly. Mr. Dick was, according to Wikipedia, raised by a determined single mom, but still… this story was first published in 1954. He couldn’t be unscathed by chauvinism, I guess.
- There is no dancing whatsoever.
- The protagonist actually goes to meet the guy at the top of the system (alluded to in both story and movie in a cheesily evasive way – yup, we figured it out, it’s God) – and he IS a guy. No attempt to imply otherwise. It was 1954: God was a wise Old Man with blue eyes. [Side note: apparently there was an ending filmed for the movie in which characters meet a female “Chairman”, but it was scrapped and re-done – they don’t meet anyone.]
- I respect Philip K. Dick for his obvious storytelling prowess – this is the eleventh movie based on his stories, even though despite his prolific production he evidently made very little money in his life – but I was not impressed with the writing itself in this story. I found it repetitive and banal. (Wow, I seem to be really picking on the writers today. Sorry to be so snotty. [Must be the influence of all the snot my son has been emitting in the last week or two.])
- Kudos for taking on the interesting and controversial philosophical topic, Mr. Dick. (This was apparently his M.O.) The question of free will may have been worked over a jillion times, but people can still have lively discussions on it. I think most of us are still extremely attached to the idea that we make our own decisions and have control over our lives. I certainly would not be comfortable with the idea that a bureau of creepy guys was responsible for that time it took me ten extra minutes to clean the icy snow off my car, or the time E had a last-minute poop and we were late for the babysitter’s, or the fact that I became a teacher, or the fact that I’m pregnant at this moment, or any number of other situations whose origins I (could) ponder.
- Okay, it’s seriously bedtime.
- To sum up: I’m tired. Someone else will have to sum up.