As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Thursday night I was invited to an early showing of The Adjustment Bureau. In this morning’s post, I would like to suggest a few symbols and themes that I noticed in the movie (please share any you may have in the comments section below).
1. Water – Water played a significant role in the movie. It disrupted the “adjusters” powers and abilities to track the plans of humans. What does this symbol suggest? Baptism? The Holy Spirit? Some Primal Force that all life arose from?
2. Race and Gender. An interesting theme and possible social critique arose with the selection of characters. All the members of the Adjustment Bureau are all men and most of the antagonists are White old men, except one who is Black that turns out to be a “good guy.” Likewise, the only main character who is a female is the love interest of Matt Damon’s character and is an up-and-coming dancer in modern ballet. There are also hints of men (damon) deciding what is the best for women (ie- a dance career or a life together and teaching 6th grade dance).
3. Doors. The agents in the movie (imagine angels who work for the FBI) move throughout our world, adjusting decisions and ensuring people stay on their “life plans” by crossing through doors. They must wear hats (see #5) and turn the door knob to the right to cross space and time to locations. They can travel across the city by walking through an ordinary door. Also, they can travel to another realm of reality by entering these doors (think Narnia). What do the doors represent? Opportunity? Sacraments/Spiritual Practices? Prayer?
4. Books and Maps. The “plans” for humans that the agents ensure we stay on are disclosed on what appears to be books that have a moving map on them much like a GPS. This is another limitation of the angels/agents in the movie. To see the plans of humans they must look on these books/maps, so they rely on technology to succeed in their mission. What do these books represent? Knowledge? Power of information? Accessible Wisdom? Limited Foresight? The Bible? The Quran?
5. Hats. Another revelation of the “angels”/agents lack of power in the movie is the presence of hats. To travel through the doors and utilize their powers, they must be wearing a hat. What does this represent? Head coverings? Power coming only from God (or the”chairman”)? Privilege? Election?
6. Colors. The colors in the movie are always contrasting with one another. The final agent called in to deal with Matt Damon’s case views things clearly as “Black and White.” This is evidenced in the attire, architecture, and grit that is present with the agents. Contrasting this are the Blue of Damon’s character and Red of his romantic interest played by Emily Blunt. Liturgically speaking colors matter, and in this movie they are repeatedly brought up.
7. The Chairman. You never explicitly “see” the Chairman (who the agents/angels suggest could be “god”); however, in the end of the movie it is suggested that Matt Damon has seen The Chairman at some point in the movie… since the Chairman appears in various forms to different people (I missed this, so keep your eyes peeled). But who is the Chairman? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The Father of Jesus Christ? A distant impersonal God? Is it Satan? Is it the collective consciousness of all creation? Or is the chairman a really powerful agent? Is the chairmen just “the man” of society?
8. Fundamentalism. As JD Walt (www.jdwalt.com) mentioned during the talk-back session after the screening, The Adjustment Bureau takes a swing at forms of religious fundamentalism. The agents (except one) view the world according to a certain black/white plan for all people and are ruthless in their pursuit of keeping people on their paths.
9. Chance. What is chance according to the Adjustment Bureau? At one point an unanticipated meeting occurs that the agents/angels chalk up as “according to chance”; however, you later will find out that there is no chance, but only “ripples” (remnants) of previously adjusted plans (this opens an interesting sidebar, that I may explore on middle knowledge). So is there such a thing as chance? How do chance, choice, and determinism exist together?
10 Who are we in the story? This brings me to this final question. Who are we (humans) in the story? Are we the “adjusters/angels” or are we the humans? Can we be both? Instantly we would be compelled to say the humans, right? But could it be that we also are meant to identify with the agents? Could the agents represent the Church or a particular religion (power from God, head coverings, books of wisdom, plans for people’s lives, ability to go near God through portals in the ordinary)?
Are we Matt Damon’s character filled with emptiness that only a vocation can fulfill until we find that love can better satisfy that longing? Are we the minority who embraces love in a world controlled by rules? Is this movie not about God/Angels as much as it is about society/culture?
There are definitely other symbols/motifs/images that are being conveyed in the movie, but these are a few to consider.