It goes by many names: Kismet. Adrsta. Predestination. Determinism. Destiny. "God's will."
The ancient Greeks dubbed it "Moirae" and gave it personality -- Fate. Or, rather, "The Fates," three female supernatural beings who spun, pulled and cut the literal threads of life that controlled when a person was born, what they did with their life and when and how they
In an intriguing new film that explores themes of fate, destiny, divine and human (free) will, that same idea is called "The Adjustment Bureau" -- an otherworldly bureaucratic organization controlled by an unseen entity (or, perhaps, deity) known as "the Chairman."
A cadre of caseworkers in fedoras and dark suits -- a cross between G-men, IRS agents and guardian angels -- carry out the Chairman's will by making sure we humans don't stray off course. They track our movements and decisions on a kind of heavenly GPS device and make small "adjustments" to our decision-making processes.
The idea is to keep us on a predetermined track -- on a course we know nothing about and can do nothing to change.
In "The Adjustment Bureau," God's G-men carry out their duties on the periphery of the natural world where the curtain separating the here from there is as sheer as gossamer. They're around us all the time, everywhere, watching and, occasionally, tinkering as needed.
The clandestine machinations of the Adjustment Bureau are revealed to David Norris (Matt Damon) a young, rising political star running for U.S. Senate in New York. On the eve of his first unsuccessful bid for the Senate, Norris has a chance encounter in the men's room of the Waldorf Astoria with a beautiful ballet dancer, Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), who is hiding from hotel security after crashing a wedding reception upstairs.
Their attraction is immediate and powerful. Emily is charming, whimsical and passionate. David is enchanted and transformed by her honesty. They kiss -- instant soul mates -- and then Elise makes a Cinderella-esque exit without ever giving David her name.
That encounter was part of David's fate, we learn, but it was "fated" to just be a one-time thing. They were not "supposed" to meet again, ever. But when they do meet again on a city bus, David strays from his preordained course. That's when the Adjustment Bureau's agents
The curtain is pulled all the way back when David walks in on Bureau agents "adjusting" his business partner in the conference room of their venture capital firm. He tries to run, but the Bureau minions capture him. In an empty warehouse, Bureau honcho Richardson (John Slattery of "Mad Men") explains to David what they're up to and then warns him not to tell a soul, unless he wants his brain to be rebooted (i.e. erased) at the Chairman's behest. He is not to see Elise again. It's not part of the plan.
But the heart wants what it wants, and David begins searching for Elise. After three years, he finds her on the street, and their bond is cemented a bit more than with just a kiss.
A romantic comedy wrapped in a science-fiction thriller with ample chase scenes and intrigue, "The Adjustment Bureau" traces David's attempts to alter his destiny, a move that will, he's warned, have significant consequences for the fate of his ladylove and the rest of the world.
The film poses a question that is left open-ended when the credits roll: Is it possible to change our fate?
The Chairman -- i.e., God -- has written the stories of our lives and the Big Story of the world. God knows how the story begins and ends. But is that story set in stone? If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, is there anything that happens in our lives that isn't part of God's
will and design?
Are human beings, created with a free will, capable of changing God's mind? And if we are, what does that say about the nature of the Divine?
It's a question theologians have wrestled with throughout the ages, without ever finding a true consensus. It's no wonder that the filmmakers appear unable -- or unwilling -- to provide a clear answer to such a spiritual/existential conundrum.
In the film, David appears to change his fate first by chance and then through his own volition.
His story changes. The Chairman does a rewrite. Or does he?
In a universe ordered by such an Almighty, perhaps there is no such thing as chance.
With the Chairman holding the eternal pen, what passes for serendipity might just be kismet in a clever disguise.