The Adjustment Bureau (Nolfi, 2011) + Shanghai Fest Films

Links to Shanghai Film Fest films at the end here.

The Adjustment Bureau was another airplane movie.  I actually put the headphone on for this one.  I’m a sucker for sci-fi and while Matt Damon is fine, I really like a lot of the supporting cast (Terrence Stamp, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery).

So…TAB is ultimately pretty standard fare.  It’s more of a romance than sci-fi, but it has some pretty funny ideas running through it.  For example, man, when given free will, has caused all the ills of the world (wars, plagues, you name it).  But when free-will is revoked by the powers that be, the world rests in relative peace.

More of these “theories” abound.  But first, a bit of small plot.  Damon plays David Norris a young, go-getter of a politician.  On the eve of a disastrous election defeat he happens upon Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt): love at first sight.  Not so fast.  David soon discovers that there is a group of men (men only, mind you.  Women in this film are only there to dance ballet and oscillate from beau to beau.  Yes, I just said beau) whose job it is to occasionally intervene and redirect a person’s path as it suits the predetermined needs of some unknown/unseen god-figure.  But Davey, being the good ‘ol romantic he is, refuses to adhere to Calvinist standards (thanks for that one, Eric) and decides that, come hell or high water, he’ll spend the rest of his life with Elise.  A beautiful sentiment indeed.

The usual obstacles and science-fiction logic follow.  TAB is a pretty harmless film that doesn’t advance anything new, and in fact falls back on pretty boring conventions in addition to making up rules as it goes along (TAB can’t see you if it’s raining?  Or they can’t see you as well?  Or they don’t like to get wet?  Or their sweet fedoras don’t have wide enough brims to prevent said rain from dripping on their unanimously attractive faces?  This is reminiscent of the cups of water in Signs.  Convenient, illogical, and little else).

Here’s a bit of a SPOILER, though if you’ve seen more than one film in your life, it really shouldn’t be.  David and Elise overcome the overwhelming odds and true love prevails.  Huzzah!  Anthony Mackie’s Harry Mitchell – a sort of fallen angel character – tells them that “The Chairman” (ie god, the devil, Buddha, Krishna, and your next door neighbor Bob) is impressed with their determination (wouldn’t it be nice if someone told you that the next time you stalked a potential significant other?  Think about it: you’re in the tree outside of his/her apartment, binoculars in hand, overnight food supply at the ready, travel pillow taped to the back of your head, and, instead of being arrested and tased, you are congratulated by god on your determination.  What a wonderful world this could be!).

Mitchell goes onto say that because of said determination, The Chairman has decided that they be allowed to stay together.  But here’s the thing: Mitchell made a mistake awhile back.  He forgot to make David spill his coffee on himself, thereby allowing David to catch a bus that he would have missed, thereby allowing David to reunite with Elise, thereby allowing their love to blossom, flourish, grow and do all the other great things that love does.  But Mitchell, even though he reveals some deeper-rooted motives later in the film, is presented as literally having made a mistake.  He fully intended to have David spill his coffee.

So really, what we have here, is not David overcoming all odds, but Mitchell screwing up his job.  Mitchell does his job, David never reunites with Elise, they don’t have a great conversation on the bus, they don’t fall in love.

OR is the idea that even Mitchell’s mistake was predetermined?  Or that even if they didn’t meet on the bus, David and Elise would have eventually met.  All of that is well and good (though not followed up on), but here’s the real rub:

Mitchell, in that final scene, tells David and Elise that this was actually some kind of test.  But again, his mistake initiated the test.  What about the rest of us that don’t get that lucky mistake?  Should I be spilling my coffee now?  Or is this the time when I don’t spill it.  I’m confused and concerned about altering my future.  I’m going to do it, just in case I miss the girl of my dreams.  I’m going to pour this scalding cup of coffee down the front of my shirt at least once daily in the hopes that I find my destiny.  And if my guardian angel-person-guy isn’t there to fall asleep on the job and miss it, and actually comes and makes me go on with the spill, then so help me Chairman, I’ll have no chance at my own test.  And I’ll just join the steelworkers union.

So yeah, much of TAB is just sort of: destiny is there, somewhere, and it’s up to you to do what you will with it…if you’re one of the lucky ones…and if mankind doesn’t start some more wars because then we’ll jump in and set him straight right quick…and if you have a hat on you can probably make doors open to anywhere you want…and obviously one of these doors will open into Yankee stadium.

Two films I’ve reviewed from the Shanghai International Film Festival:

About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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