A swing and a miss!

How could I resist a highly rated movie featuring award-winning players, a serious director, and themes such as God, man, angels, sovereignty, and free will? I went to see “The Adjustment Bureau” on its opening weekend. I knew this was Hollywood but sometimes I’m surprised in a good way. This was not that time.

The Bureau is a collection of men in hats who have the ability to be just about anywhere in a flash. Their job is to keep everyone on the path, according to the Book, as lined out by the Chairman. When someone goes off the path, the men in hats manipulate small events to set things right. The people affected normally never know the difference. They think they are making autonomous decisions but they are actually being subtly guided along the only acceptable path by the Bureau. Pretty direct, huh?

Well, here’s the thing that creates plot tension. Our main characters go off the path, find out about the Bureau and end up on the run because they choose each other over the path set out in the Book. Nobody but the Chairman knows why people have to follow the book, by the way. His ways are inscrutable and unrevealed to men and angels. The audience sympathizes with the young lovers as the men in hats bumble along in an effort to force them apart. One of the Bureau men even lies to manipulate our hero.

About two-thirds into the movie, I could see the plot’s vanishing point. It could only end one of two ways. Audiences would have hated one resolution and the other was sweet and satisfying, in a way. I tracked the final reveal with growing dread. The sweet ending was so unremarkable and facile. The worst outcome of all would be if folks who see The Adjustment Bureau find it thought-provoking. No productive thoughts will be provoked by those who enter the movie without already knowing that God is nothing like the Director; his Bible is nothing like the Book with its cryptic guidelines; and that the rebellion against God is nothing sweet or romantic at all.

The movie was based on a short story by legendary sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick, a mystic and self-described “fictionalizing philosopher.” The writer’s intent was serious, to question not only our own assumptions about truth but about reality itself. I don’t know if The Adjustment Bureau is true to the short story, but the movie dumbs down the most serious discussions that philosophers and theologians have had over the span of centuries. That’s regrettable. I recognized a small bit of open theism, the belief that God is neither all-knowing nor all-powerful. There was a caricature of the discussion within Christianity regarding the sovereignty of God and the free will of men. I recognized little bits of garden variety universalism. The ending reverted to existentialism. It was a half-baked theological casserole.

I applaud any effort to engage serious ideas within entertainment. It happens so rarely that each example is noteworthy. The last 30 minutes of this movie abandons the effort in favor of a multi-faith theological greeting card.

Our good news is that the true God has revealed himself in more detail than we’ll ever comprehend in this life. His book is not a pathway to keep men and women from joy and freedom, it’s the story of how we can have those things. Neither is God surprised by anything that happens. He is not powerless in the face of our rebellion. The most imaginative of men can never escape the fact that any God or system created by men will be inadequate to provide what all men truly need. Mankind set free from God is not heroic, he is merely lost.

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