Your Future has been Adjusted? Free Will and the Adjustment Bureau

Attempting to strike while the iron is hot, I figured a quick review of the […]

Bryan J. / 3.22.11

Attempting to strike while the iron is hot, I figured a quick review of the Adjustment Bureau might be helpful given this morning’s earlier NYT post. We posted the trailer for Bureau waaay back in June of ’10, chuckling at the movie’s tag line: “If you believe in free will, will you fight for it?” After seeing the movie, I figured I’d share a few non-spoiler observations about the movie, which turns out to be less preachy on the subject than you might imagine. The movie surprisingly presents a sympathetic understanding of the bound will. The “angelic” characters with the bureau step in regularly to intervene with the lives of human beings, driving the right person to the right place at the right time, setting up a chain reaction of events that change the course of the whole world for good. These “angels” disclose that human beings can’t help but flub up the world every chance they get, andwould destroy themselves if they didn’t intervene.

All is well and good, of course, until Matt Damon rejects his “divinely appointed future” for the woman he’s fallen in love with. All of this is revealed to the audience at the movie’s beginning.

A poignant quote from one of the “angels” about the nature of free will:

“We actually tried free will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman empire, we stepped back to see how you’d do on your own. You gave us the dark ages for five centuries until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman [God-like figure] thought that maybe we just needed to do a better job with teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you raised hopes, Enlightenment, scientific revolution. For six-hundred years we taught you to control your impulses with reason. Then in 1910, we stepped back. Within fifty years you’d brought us World War One, the depression, fascism, the holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuba missile crisis. At that point the decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn’t fix.”

By the end of the movie, we might boil down its core message to this: “Free

will is only given to those who deserve it,” an ironic Pelagian twist pitting works righteousness and freedom of the will against each other. Free will isn’t the ideal of the picture- free will is the problem. And while Matt Damon might be self-actualized enough to earn his free will, what about the rest of us?

For further comment on this, I refer you to this morning’s post about James Franco and Bradley Cooper. I would also recommend our resource page, where you can find a great primer on the subject by John Zahl, “Free Will (and the Lack Thereof)” under the section titled Misc. Talks & Articles (scroll down to the bottom, look on the right!).
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One response to “Your Future has been Adjusted? Free Will and the Adjustment Bureau”

  1. Mich says:

    So the "Angels" are responsible for Neoliberalism and Banking Collapse?


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