Precious Bodily Fluids

The Adjustment Bureau: Politically Determined

It’s the political background that takes precedence in The Adjustment Bureau to such an extent that it may provide the key to the film’s rather temporal cosmology. For a story that flirts with suggestions of the divine, angels, free will, and determinism, the real-world referents that the film connects with its content are something much more akin to “big brother,” Orwell stuff, and general paranoia of political fascism. Is this a misreading? Are we violently applying the film’s glossy artifice, a narrative revolving around a pretty boy’s quick rise up the political ladder, as both the source and terminus of the film’s overall meaning? Momentarily sidestepping the popular contemporary suggestions that there is no such thing as a misreading, three chief factors lend support to this hypothesis (at least, three factors immediately evident upon a single viewing of the film). First, certain cameos toward the film’s beginning, including one by former Secretary of State Madelaine Albright and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (to say nothing of two separate appearances by political satirist Jon Stewart), ground the film’s fiction in a concrete reality. Second, the narrative revolves around politics: a politician trying to ascend to the highest rank in the land, a rank deemed by the diegesis itself, it seems, as the highest possible good. The sheer absurdity of such a notion that victory in a presidential election could be so earthshaking is so naïve that the film must be about politics and could not ultimately be about something more metaphysical (viz., free will & determinism, the philosophical concepts that the film touts without doing adequate justice to them). That is to say, only a political mindset could be so myopic as to see the US presidency as the all-in-all. Third, characters in the film – particularly those from the “other” world – have all the signs of Orwellian political voyeurs. The “angels” look something like covert operatives, CIA agents, or the Secret Service. These figures are characterized by all things sinister. The one loose cannon, rogue, AWOL agent is exactly the same character as that played by Jeffrey Wright in the recent James Bond film Quantum of Solace. (In classic Hollywood fashion, each character in each film is black. Such a token offering to give such a small role but one of narrative significance to a black actor.) In The Adjustment Bureau, this character is an anti-Satan. He’s a fallen angel, but that’s precisely what makes him good. However much of a cosmic sadist many may accuse the Almighty of being, all indications point to the powers-that-be in The Adjustment Bureau as paralleling those earthly powers that typically try to wield too much control over the everyman. What this film does to try to throw the viewer off of this fairly conventional path is to hurl big concepts like free will and determinism, as well as to symbolize a political dilemma (however urgent it may be) via theophany.

This entry was published on August 20, 2011 at 6:04 pm. It’s filed under 2010s Cinema, American film and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “The Adjustment Bureau: Politically Determined

  1. Steelman on said:

    Finally. A movie I’ve seen. Perhaps I’m too politically jaded by now to pick up on the (rather staid) political overtones, but I thought the movie really was reaching toward something more metaphysical. Knowing Philip K. Dick and his peculiar philosophical slant, the first thing I thought after finishing the movie was, “I’ll bet that was a pretty decent short story, ruined in the adaptation.” As an episode of the Twilight Zone, this might’ve really hit the mark — ambiguity over the nature of free will and directed cultural evolution, the futility of struggling against fate, the nature of the rogue agent as ultimately good or evil, etc. But in drawing out the narrative, the filmmakers have all but abandoned their chance at an interesting ending in favor of a ham-fisted moralizing humanistic paen to… what, exactly? Dogged determination? The never-say-die attitude? I like to think what’s being elevated to apotheosis here is the classic American value: “Screw what’s best for everyone; I want what’s best for ME!”

  2. I’m totally down with your final point. Which does, though, have strong connections with a political stance against fascist powers. Not totally unlike something that Damon’s Bourne movies also get at; big powers taken down by the yet-more-powerful little man (esp. if the little man is a $30 million killing machine). Yeah, I left out the Dick stuff here in part because, despite the fact that I’ve never read his stuff, I get the impression that this film’s source material is being forced through a strainer to get something of entertainment value for today’s viewing public. Although, Minority Report was his material, too, right? Plenty of Orwellian themes going on there. But perhaps we’re in the realm, with Dick, of politics overlapping with metaphysics.

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