Alison and I watched The Adjustment Bureau on Sunday afternoon. It was a good decision, because it was an enjoyable movie and if we hadn’t watched it we would have probably worked around the house and not rested… because there’s nothing else to do, except to be on Facebook.
As enjoyable as the movie was, though, it kind of annoyed me, but only because I actually thought about it…. it’s not as if there was any sort of glaring annoyance, it was just the theological undertones of the whole movie, which weren’t veiled in the least… except calling God the “Chairman” and angels “agents” (if you want to call that veiling). Well, the one thing that was sort of a glaring annoyance was the cheesy explanation of how agents were able to use doors as portals.
If you haven’t seen the movie I hope I don’t ruin it for you, but I’m not going to reveal much in the way of the plot… so no worries.
The primary plot device (not plot) in the movie is the tension between free-will and predestination. The movie makes a rather poor case for predestination or fate, but it makes it easier to set up the conclusion. Instead of being full out predestination, the Chairman has a plan and has an adjustment bureau that keeps humanity in check by adjusting their range of choices to increase the probability of them choosing within the plan; however this plan is oft thwarted by chance. This doesn’t sound so much like predestination as coerced will, but it makes for a better story and actually allows for a conflict. In reality predestination is more along the lines of whatever choice you make was always destined to be, no adjustment needed, no chance involved. But of course it makes for a bad plot, because God can’t be challenged in such sense… its probably one of the reasons they made Superman weaker after the Crisis of Infinite Earths. Regardless, it gets to the point that ultimately our life is not directed by us, but by some other person or group.
They allow that humanity has had freewill at times, after the rise of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance and 1910 until the Cuban Missile Crisis. Which is interesting, because both of those time periods, at least in the Western world were some of the darkest times in history. Of course it rules out anything that isn’t Western that occurred, say the Rwandan Genocide, the Khmer Rouge, which, according the movie, occurred when humans didn’t have freewill nor the Islamic Golden Age, which occurred when humanity did have freewill (so there were some glaring problems that weren’t merely devices). The point I’m sure they were trying to make though, was that, if humanity had freewill, we’d just run everything to the ground and bring nuclear winter upon ourselves.
Regardless of my critique of the movies portrayal of predestination and freewill, the problems of both are raised.
I like the idea of predestination… its of a God in control, of a God who has everything settled and known. But the problem is that, if it is true, my perception of freewill is just that, a perception; it is nothing more than a mirage and totally unreal, denying me the reality of my experiences. It has the possibility of making all decisions meaningless, since you aren’t really doing anything but what you’re already supposed to do.
Although your life is meaningful in a grander perspective, as it answers the question of “why?”, it takes the reward out of a life well lived, or the misery out of a life poorly lived; ultimately, you will be resigned to the fact that you didn’t live a life but did what was already set out for you. That, at least, is a rather extreme fatalistic perspective.
As much as I like the idea of predestination, I also like the idea of freewill. I mean come on, who wouldn’t? After all it is the reality that we experience everyday. Contrary to destiny, I am living a good life, or poor life based upon my own decisions, and the choice of which to live is mine to make. However, we still run into the problem of meaninglessness. I, unfortunately, cannot control all things except for those that come my way; meaninglessness, therefore, creeps in again, because I cannot ask the question “why?” primarily because there is no answer; there is merely a random mix of events and causality that result in either something fortunate or unfortunate occurring in which you can only control your reactions to. Even though you get the satisfaction of being able to choose to live a good life, you don’t have a God in control and, thus, do not get the satisfaction of meaning behind whatever sorts of external circumstances get you there… it might even be that you make as many good decisions as you can, but external circumstances derail you and you don’t end up living a good life.
Meaninglessness is simply the problem we run into with either paradigm. I have come to the conclusion that it is a paradox. That is it is “both and”, or I guess it could be “neither nor too”, but that could kind of be the same thing. Anyways, at least with this I have the benefits of both… I get the power good life, but I also get the benefit of being part of a grander plan. I am both in control and not in control… it seems like a contradiction, but its not is a paradox. Don’t ask me to explain it… it just is; it is simply the conclusion I’ve come to based out of my own experience and studying Scripture and theology.
I didn’t realize it at first, but the movie kind of gets at that at the end, albeit in a very subtle way. I’d like to think that they knew they were purposely doing it, but somehow I think it was simply done for the purposes of sounding nice, considering other mistakes. At the conclusion of the movie a voice over from one of the agents says something along the lines of free will being a gift and that its not until we fight for it and realize it that we will use it wisely and write our own plans for ourselves. But before that the same agent says the Chairman rewrote the plan for the two main characters and said that everything is pretty much a test for everyone, the adjustment bureau included. It’s a sweeping statement, that, if true, means that even freewill is a test and if so means that there is still some ultimate end that the Chairman is working towards.
Unless of course the ultimate end is that we understand freewill as a gift and use it as such, but of course that would mean that there would come a point where humanity doesn’t need the Chairman, as they no longer need to be adjusted and the Chairman would merely be experiencing in real time the same thing humanity would be experiencing.
On another note… I like Matt Damon. I don’t care what movie he’s been in, I’ve always enjoyed him… and he looks like my friend Mike Hicks, only blonde… I’d post a picture, but I feel like I’d be breaking a law or something…
Also, see all of Matt Damon’s movies; they should be good.