As Fate Would Have It: ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ And Us (*WARNING* Spoilers!!)
There is a scene in The Adjustment Bureau — which came out last Friday — I keep on replaying over and over again since I saw it with my cousin.David Norris (played by Matt Damon) is already aware of The Adjustment Bureau, a group of Mad Men-esque guardian angels who control the fate of every human being. Few are aware of them, but since David went against the adjustment bureau’s plan they wrote out for him, all in pursuit of a ballerina named Elise Sellas (played by Emily Blunt) with whom he fell madly in love, the adjustment bureau force themselves in David’s life.
They tell him, he and Elise are not supposed to be together, that his destiny (which they have already written out for him) is to be the next President of the United States. Elise’s destiny is to be the most renowned ballerina in the world. David calls their bluff, and pursues Elise anyway. So David attends one of Elise’s shows where she promptly falls and breaks her ankle. When he visits her at the hospital, David is told by one of the adjustment bureau officers that the incident was not a mistake, it was a sign of what would happen to Elise’s career should David continue to see her. So David leaves Elise in the hospital, unwilling to get in the way of her dreams and essentially choosing for him (and to some extent her) a fate that leaves them apart.
It was this kind of scene that makes The Adjustment Bureau a left-of-field love story. The movie itself is a genre mash-up of romance and science-fiction — like The Notebook with some Inception-like elements — and for my money, one of those rare love stories that focuses on a man and his struggle, not with loving someone, but how much to love someone. David knows what’s at risk if he chooses to stay with Elise, but Elise has no idea. When she notices David’s hesitation to make a move, she interprets it as waffling, but David has been sworn to secrecy about the adjustment bureau’s existence, and therefore has trouble explaining to Elise why he never completely follows through, and therein lies “the rub” to which I can relate.
Don’t we all sort of struggle with the same battle? Somehow, when things aren’t quite going well in our career (or with school), or we need to focus on our career (or school), we feel like it comes at a cost, and sometimes that cost is making a choice to be on our own. Why, only last year, a girl I was dating told me (numerous times) we should stop dating all because “we” need to focus on ourselves. That’s the word she used, “we”.
So when “we” need to focus on our careers, “we” can’t possibly make time to focus on each other, is essentially what we convince ourselves. But whatever happened to us helping each other?
David wants what’s best for Elise, and is somehow convinced he’s not a part of that plan as evidenced by her breaking her ankle when he walks into her show. This is his interpretation based on what he has seen and what he has been told by the bureau. The reason the scene stuck out to me is he never asks Elise how she feels, not only about the ankle injury, but about him, and how important it was that he was there for her when she probably needed him for support, more than she needed a pair of crutches anyway. David is so career-focused that he pushes the same attitude onto Elise without ever asking Elise if she thinks the same way. He makes a “we” decision by himself.
The only thing more troubling than trying to figure out our own destiny is trying to figure out the destiny of someone else. There have been times I’ve been convinced that my destiny was to be with someone only to find out they had a different destiny for themselves in mind, and I always wonder, whose destiny is more correct, mine or hers? As is the case with most movies, you will see what happens to David and Elise in the end, so I’m going to avoid any spoiler alerts, but for those who do see it, pay attention. The movie aims to make us ponder whether we live a life of free will or predetermined fate, but after, I came away asking myself two more questions: How does our destiny as individuals affect the destiny of someone else? If the perfect person doesn’t fit in our lives perfectly, are they perfect for us at all?