Reading the Screen: The Adjustment Bureau
Posted by: David Pitt
Have you seen The Adjustment Bureau, the recent movie based on Philip K. Dick’s 1954 short story “Adjustment Team”? It’s a good movie, with a mind-bending premise and a rather touching love story, but oh boy is it different from its source material.
In the movie, a politician (Matt Damon) stumbles onto a secret organization that, um, adjusts events so that the future, as dictated by a predetermined Plan, remains intact. Damon is instructed not to say anything about the Adjustment Bureau, and not to try to alter the predetermined events. Instead he chooses to risk his life to stay with a woman he’s fallen in love with — even though, according to the Plan, they should not be together.
The hero of Dick’s story works for a real estate company. He discovers the existence of the Adjustment Team (not Bureau) in roughly the same way as Damon does in the movie, but there’s no woman, no love story, and no mysterious doors that let you jump from one place to another (one of the movie’s cleverer and more economical gimmicks). There is, on the other hand, a talking dog.
The movie uses Dick’s story as a jumping-off point, an entry into a larger story about free will, determinism, and the shifting nature of this thing we call “reality” — a larger story that Dick hinted at, but didn’t develop. The love story is there, I suspect, because the filmmakers needed a good reason for Damon’s character to refuse to go along with the Bureau, and what better reason than True Love?
In some ways the movie takes Dick’s story and combines it with elements of Alex Proyas’ brilliant 1998 movie Dark City (in which the shadowy villains alter reality every night at midnight). The Adjustment Bureau is much more like a traditional action movie, but it’s got the same sense of unreality and creeping paranoia, not to mention the bad guys in hats.
Dick’s story is a nice little piece of science fiction — you can read it online here – but, let’s be honest, there’s no way you could turn it into a movie without some major beefing-up. You might argue with the way the filmmakers beefed up the story, but I like what they did with it. They did a nice job of working major changes to the story while being faithful to its spirit.
Here’s a trailer for the movie: