'The Adjustment Bureau': Fate Or Free Will?
Did you choose to read this article on your own? Or was there some greater force that made sure that you clicked that link at that time, so that some long series of events -- a butterfly effect -- could be triggered? Free will vs. fate. It's a question that has vexed our greatest philosophers, and one perhaps impossible to answer -- unless you've seen behind the curtain. Or, rather, the door.
It's a question Matt Damon had to ponder -- and then fight to the death to defy what he finds to be the answer.
The Oscar winner stars in "The Adjustment Bureau" as Senate candidate David Norris, a man destined for great things, thanks to The Plan. He's watched over from birth by the Adjustment Bureau -- the tens of thousands of years old bureaucracy that guides the fate of humanity toward its Plan. A serious group of men in wool suits and hats, they make sure every interconnected moment goes according to plan, and do whatever it takes -- how ever ruthless -- to keep him on that track.
Creepy, but evil?
John Slattery and Anthony Mackie play the agents in charge of keeping Damon's Norris from being with Elise, the woman (Emily Blunt) that he was once destined to be with, and whom he's determined to escape fate - no matter how dire the Bureau's threats -- to find and love. In an epic back and forth chase, filled with lush shots of New York City and escalating stakes, Damon works to escape the Plan that had been set for him.
Defying the odds, physics and any rational analysis of what the safe choice would be, Norris exercises free will -- which, in the world of the Bureau, is a big no no, especially for someone destined for so much greatness. His future -- and his love's -- is on the line, but then, so is the course of human history.
Obviously, the fiction here is vast -- the probability that there are men in suits secretly controlling our destiny is quite low -- but the film goes beyond just thrilling storytelling. It begs the question of fate, and Slattery, who tried to do the fate adjusting in the film, told The Huffington Post that, at the very least, our traditional notion of free will may be narrow and ill-focused.
"Somebody asked me that and I thought, you know, how many of us are really totally free to make the decisions that determine our life? I mean, look at, everywhere you turn, Cairo, these people are just trying to make decisions, trying to influence people to act in a way that's beneficial. But all people, they just want to take their kids to school, be in some place free of violence, I think people have simple desires in their life, and there's so many powers over their life that influence the quality of it. And not in a good way. So is that fate? Or is that just the power that someone else has over you? I don't know if your life is designed to be, work in a sweatshop somewhere, but that's what work there is, and that's how to put food on the table, and so 50 years later, you've spent your life sewing handkerchiefs. Is that a life anybody would choose? I think a lot of people don't have the free will that they wish they had."
It's a take on the positive/negative freedoms debate, but examined in context of one's destiny -- are our lives decided for us before we're even born? And even for those who are born in a more affluent world, filled with opportunities, are the things that happen to us destined to be?
Blunt, in an interview with reporters, recalled a moment that could have been luck -- but felt like it was fated, in retrospect.
I remember I didn't get into this really great school that my sister went to. It's this school called the Westminster School, in London which is fiercely competitive. She gets in, because she's a brainiac, and I don't because I'm obviously not. I remember at 16 being devastated, and my life was over and this is so sad and inferior that I hadn't gotten in. So I went to my second choice school, which had a good drama department. I hadn't previously considered acting, but I was in a play through my school that went to the Edinburgh Festival, I got an agent-- he's still my agent-- and now I'm here with you nice people. If I had gone to Westminster, I wouldn't be doing this job, guaranteed. That was weird. At the time it seems devastating, but obviously it was meant to happen that I never went there.
Perhaps her grades just weren't good enough. But maybe that's because she lost a certain text book, which ended up making her fail a test, which ended up hurting her application. And perhaps a man in a wool suit and fedora is holding on to that book at this very moment.