Like the dichotomy between movies and films, the same debate as to the difference between fate and destiny can often become heated. Does Destiny exist? Does Fate exist? How does it apply to our lives? And does a singular “man upstairs” control everything? Philosophers and historians have often debated about this, and some of those people have written slightly, or rather more than slightly, allegorical works trying to explain the correlation between the two. Personally, I have found destiny like one of those obnoxious GPS systems with the snooty English voice. When you take a wrong turn, it just reroutes you while it calmly tells you that you took the wrong turn, and yet its voice sounds more sardonic and biting.
And so, writer Phillip K. Dick tried to tackle the question in a short story called “The Adjustment Team”, which was transformed into an elaborate and thrilling film by George Nolfi. It seems like it’s a trend to take 20 page short stories and make them rather longer films, such as the “curious case” of Benjamin Button, which was two hours and forty-five minutes, yet based on a 12 page short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Regardless, both adaptations hold their own right with film goers and critics. What this movie manages to portray is the difficult balance between incredible thrill and passionate romance, a feat which is rarely pumped with such pathological understanding and connection, both between the stars and the audience.
Matt Damon plays politician David Norris, a young one at that, who tries to leave his playboy image behind to seem more mature for the Senate race. Everything seems to be going his way until a scandalous image hits the pages of the New York Post and he loses the election. On the night he loses, he meets a woman in the bathroom. Yes, a bathroom does seem to be a strange place to meet people, but it’s been done before. Emily Blunt plays Elise, an up and coming ballet dancer, the woman who disrupts David’s world and sends him into a harrowing journey of discovery and true love. The impromptu kiss the two share seems aloof at first, but the chemistry between Blunt and Damon is instantaneous. It’s as palpable as anything one experiences on the screen. And, yes, only in a 10 second kiss.
And when he meets her again, the Adjustment Bureau, a team of white collar guys in fedoras, set into motion to keep the two apart. It was them who had made David lose the Senate race. It was them who made him spill his coffee on Elise. It’s all part of “the plan”. The entire idea of predestination versus free will rocks this story to not only raise questions in the viewer but also challenge the viewer into the decisions he or she makes in real life. The story continues to prod the viewer as to what decision David should make in the movie. Separated by this team of men, led primarily in the first half of the film by the dapper John Slattery of Mad Men fame (he fits perfectly in the movie), the girl he met by “chance” incessantly wreaks havoc on his brain and on his heart. Even three years later, he finds her by “chance” and is determined to be with her. But the Team is forced to tear them apart once again, for the plan was written by the Chairman, a nameless and faceless entity that is not-so-subtly a reference to the Judaea-Christian God. David is helped by one member of the Team named Harry, played with great sympathy by Anthony Mackie. Wracked by the guilt of destroying David’s earlier life, when his mother died “by chance” and when his brother died of an overdose and when his father gave him a hard time, Harry seems to rebel against the routine and help one of his “subjects” out, regardless of the implications of getting fired.
While this slightly existential plotline makes itself very clear, the technical aspect seems to be slightly underwhelming. This was not beautifully shot. The cinematography is okay. While the Team is in control, the camera makes smooth sweeps across the screen, obviously a purposeful creative movement, which is contrasted with the shaky hand-held feel of David’s kinetic world of fighting against Destiny. One shot, however, did create an interesting image in my head. When Harry and David are planning their meticulous fight to find David’s true love, they discuss doors. The doors are the pathways where one can enter and exit in different areas, but the catch is that one must have that fedora atop their head. Elise, at the same time, is trying to relieve her cold feet the night before she gets married to her choreographer Adrian, after she and David had been apart for eleven months. The scenes are juxtaposed in cinematography and music, the way that they set their plans and the way Elise dances. Specific moves correspond and correlate with the plan and the scene smoothly contrasts the dialogue and the ballet moves. It’s as if that the plan to go in and out of the doors just to find Elise is a dangerous ballet in and of itself.
Perhaps one of the best aspects of the movie, besides the acting, is how fast the story is set into motion. Perfectly paced for both a romance and a thriller, David can’t get Elise out of his head and is determined to find her. We, the audience, feel that excitement. We feel that yearning. We feel that need to find the person we love and fight against everything that stands in our way. This is balanced by the romance and the action, and while I may say it is, quote-unquote “action packed”, I will say that the action serves as the perfect obstacle between reality and fiction. And when David is finally running and competing against the clock, and Fate, and all that seems logical in the universe, the energy put into those scenes is relentless and masterfully executed. The adrenaline pumps through the emulsion on the film itself and the running is accompanied byu the appropriate remix of Sarah Vaughn’s rendition of “Fever”. The song never seemed so relevant, and the lines are perfect: “When you put your arms around me, I get a fever that’s so hard to bear.”
The existential elements of the film are important, as the Team consistently refers to the Chairman, the Plan, Free Will, and alludes to Destiny. These references could not be more overt if they had God appear with a beard and a suit, but it’s not blinding enough to take away from the story at all. Other elements are added in which improve the weakness of the story. True love and fighting for that love seems just as important of an agenda on the director’s mind as the allegorical message. I believe this is the first time I actually rooted (in my head) for the two leads to have sex and completely, utterly, passionately consummate their relationship. It was as if they were meant to be together. Anthony Mackie’s role is played on the right tone throughout the entire film, never overstepping his boundaries or overstaying his welcome to the audience. He is the Angel with a Conscious, the one who does not agree with the ‘current plan of action and the one who is willing to do what is right, even if the rules say that it isn’t. The hats are halos, and the menacing Thompson, played by Terrence Stamp, seems to be an archangel who is unwilling to bend the rules in the favor of someone who is in love.
Love, ah, love. The sappy, hopeless, doomed romantic in me loved the leads, the story, and the allegorical message. It’s not a perfect film. It could have been riskier. But the passion that inhibits the character’s lives and the fight against everything to be with the one you love melted my heart like a heat lamp on a piece of chocolate. The romance is decadent, and feels so real. The passion and chemistry between Emily Blunt and Mat Damon is one of the most real on the screen, almost an homage in spirit to Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Every ounce of acting these two put in ripples through your body, and makes you fall in love with them. It’s a palpable romance, something that is so rare to see on screen. Even the short kiss seems as filled with love and compassion and kindness, you may even feel a little jealous.
As I said, it is by no means a perfect film. But it’s a perfect date movie. It’s a movie that questions viewer, challenges them as to their interpretation of fate and free will. It’s one that will melt your heart, one where you will lose yourself in the extreme sense of ecstasy, and will transport you into a world where True Love, and Love at First Sight do indeed exist. It’s not a triumph in movie making, perhaps, but it is, to me, a triumph in storytelling, and a triumph in acting, and a triumph of love on the silver screen. The way it was meant to be.