Making the Grades
Ever feel like your life is being tweaked? That you are being pushed down a path you hadn’t intended to take or that Fate is intervening? David Norris (Matt Damon) hasn’t given much thought to those questions. He’s too busy. As the youngest person to ever win a New York Senate seat, the ambitious young politician from the rougher side of the city is on a meteoric rise in the popularity polls. That is until a picture of his impulsive mooning incident at a bar makes headlines just before the votes are cast.
Forced to face his fall from grace, David retreats to the men’s bathroom on election night to practice his concession speech. There he meets Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), an aspiring ballerina who is hiding from hotel security after crashing a wedding. Whether it is fueled by their shared penchant for pushing boundaries or the unlikely location of their introduction, the two fall instantly in love. And that is when strange things begin to happen.
Arriving at work the next morning, the young man discovers all the office employees in a static state. Then he is ambushed and taken to a large empty warehouse by several serious, dark-suit and fedora wearing men—the Adjustment Bureau. Stepping outside their normal procedural parameters, they let David in on a little secret. They are the force that controls the events of life. And when people get off track, they move in to do readjustments. Unfortunately David’s meeting with Elise was not supposed to happen. Giving him a stern warning about pursuing her and a strong reminder that they will be watching, they send the young man through a door that puts him back in his office where all has returned to normal.
Despite the oddity of the event, David resumes life (though he does develop an aversion to men in hats). However, he doesnt forget Elise. And in spite of the agency’s attempts to keep David and Elise apart, the two of them meet again three years later when David is on the brink of another election.
Much as his character in the Bourne trilogy, Matt Damon spends a lot of time looking over his shoulder in this role. But the force he is dealing with is bigger and more powerful than even the CIA. Instead of relying solely on a government conspiracy theory, this thriller takes more of a sci-fi angle, raising the question of just how much we control our own lives.
Frequent language, including a strong sexual expletive, and a violent car accident that results in bloody injuries will likely cause the most concern for parents whose older teens are interested in this story. As well, David and Elise engage in sexual activities portrayed with bare shoulders and passionate kissing.
Yet regardless of how you feel about the existence of higher powers, the film’s suspenseful plot raises some interesting suspicions about free will and those seemingly incidental coincidences that happen every day.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Adjustment Bureau.
David’s personal agent Harry (Anthony Mackie) falls asleep on the job and as a result David arrives at the office in time to see the Bureau doing a readjustment on David’s coworkers. What impact can seemingly small incidents have on events? What kind of accidents result from driver distraction, sleepiness, or inattentiveness? What major disasters can be attributed to small factors? On a different scale, how have every day coincidences changed your life for the better or worse?
Why are the agents at the Adjustment Bureau worried about David’s relationship with Elise? What do they mean when they say she will "be enough"? What is the balance between being content with life and driven to have or be more? Are both contentment and drive important qualities? Can a person experience both at the same time?
Several real life news anchors and TV hosts (Chuck Scarborough, Jon Stewart, Betty Lui, Daniel Bazile) show up as themselves in this movie. Do these kinds of appearances in fictional stories affect their credibility as real news hosts? Do they blur the line between factual reporting and entertainment?
Do you think this film is trying to make a statement by casting a young black man as the agent of change compared to the older, white male bureau member who follows the traditional way of dealing with people who don’t stick to their life plan?
Home Video Viewing Alternatives
Here are some ideas for home video titles that are related to The Adjustment Bureau.
In The Truman Show a man’s sense of identity suddenly unravels when he discovers his whole life may be an illusion. A government agent attempts to change the outcome of upcoming events by intervening in Déjà Vu. Fate and poor decisions play a role in the budding romance between a widow and the man who believes he is responsible for the death of her husband in Bounce.