Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life

Friday, May 18, 2012

Movie Review - The Adjustment Bureau

I believe that many movies function as modern day parables.  In most instances, writers and directors make movies for a reason that is beyond just making money—they have a story to tell and often a point or lesson to make.  Many of them touch on spiritual themes and issues.  Many have things to say about God.
Some examples (and I’m sure you could think of more):

·         Signs by M. Night Shamaylan – one of my favorite movies.  The story uses aliens and crop circles, but the main message is spiritual—how do you interpret events in life?  Is everything a chance coincidence or are things happening by some kind of design?
·         Truman Show with Jim Carrey conveys the life of a boy whose life is always on camera.  This story takes a low view of God as the show director, plotting and manipulating Truman’s life for everyone’s entertainment.  Truman is only free when he leaves the confines of the Director’s plan.
·         The Matrix – has many messianic themes and spiritual moments
·         The Superman mythology is full of messianic themes and the movies practically quote the Bible at times in reference to the Father Jor-El (El being Hebrew for God) sending his only son to earth.
·         Bruce Almighty—is an entertaining movie where Bruce (also Jim Carrey) thinks he can do a better job running things than God.  He learns quickly just how difficult that is, even on something as simple as prayer.
·         Pleasantville—is one of the most devious but effective movies.  This movie retells the story of Genesis 3, aka the Fall, using a 1950’s TV show and the transition from black/white to color.  It claims that the Fall was a good thing and that God (Don Knott’s TV Repairman) was intending that outcome all along.

I know there are more but I want to add another movie that my wife and I watched last night: 
The Adjustment Bureau.  Here is the movie’s description on the IMDB website:

Do we control our destiny, or do unseen forces manipulate us? A man glimpses the future Fate has planned for him and realizes he wants something else. To get it, he must pursue across, under and through the streets of modern-day New York the only woman he's ever loved. On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) - a woman like none he's ever known. But just as he realizes he's falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart. David learns he is up against the agents of Fate itself - the men of The Adjustment Bureau - who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together. In the face of overwhelming odds, he must either let her go and accept a predetermined path...or risk everything to defy Fate and be with her.

I had a feeling from the movie’s description that it would have something to do with the idea of Freewill and the Sovereignty of God.  I was not disappointed by this, but I was rather surprised at the hostility inherent in the story toward a “Chairman” who tries to control and manipulate the human population.  People are allowed to make small or insignificant decisions but they are not really allowed to deviate from “The Plan” which is carried around in a book-like form by agents.  These agents live a long time and have been referred to as angels in the past.

If someone needs a push or nudge in a certain direction, these agents will arrange for it.  Seemingly random meetings can inspire someone, a spilled cup of coffee can be used to delay someone from crossing paths with somebody else. 

If someone is going in the wrong direction the agents have the authority to change how the person thinks through direct mental intervention; they have the authority to interfere and sabotage any attempt to deviate from The Plan even to the point of injuring or hurting others.  

At one point, a higher ranking agent explained that their efforts took humanity from hunter gatherers to the heights of the Roman Empire.  At which point they considered humans evolved enough to step back and let us do things on their own.  This was, in their opinion, a disaster.  After the Dark Ages (a very Eurocentric perspective is presented) they stepped back in to enlighten our path, giving us reason as a guide.  They stepped out of the picture again in 1910 and we immediately destroyed things with WWI & WWII.

This caused the Chairman & agents to intervene again.

Basically, this storyline attempts to play out biblical concepts and verses regarding God’s Sovereignty and His involvement in human events.  Consider verses like:

Jeremiah 29:1--“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”


Romans 8:28—“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

The truth is, God does have a plan—history is moving in a certain direction and end that He determines.  It is His story more than it is our story.

But the plot of this movie, originally a short story by Phillip K. Dick of Blade Runner fame, does not believe God’s motives and efforts are trustworthy, nor do they have our best interest at heart.

This Chairman is cold and calculating.  He is manipulative and is far removed from the actual lives that are impacted by his plan—which is why you never actually meet the Chairman—the human characters have no chance of ever getting close to him to have any kind of relationship with him.  He is far removed from daily life, much more like the version of God found in Deism.

This Chairman doesn’t really care about you, but rather the world improving in general as things fit into the plan.

This is the heart of the deception that the serpent uses in Genesis 3.  He causes Adam and Eve to doubt God’s word and His motives: 

God is holding out on you by denying you the fruit.  God is holding you back from being like Him.  He knows good and evil and He’s greater than you.  He probably ate the fruit which is how He got so powerful.  He just doesn’t want any rivals.  He doesn’t really care about you, doesn’t really have your best interest at heart, which is why He is denying you something good and desirable.

Don’t listen to Him.  Take control of your life.  Don’t be a mindless slave.  Find out what you’re missing.  Step out of those restrictive rules and chart your own path.  Live your own life.  Make your own plan.

This is the heart of the movie and how the movie ends.  The main characters rewrite the Plan based on their determination to make their own choices.  The Plan is, in essence, subject to change and revision.  Even the agents can undermine the plan when they don’t agree with it.

The creative source behind The Adjustment Bureau as a movie, clearly resents a Sovereign God; resents an overarching plan that is bigger than you or me.   

The plan is something to be rejected.  The influence of the Chairman is to be resisted, thwarted and cast off.

But even the movie points out that when the Agents back off and the humans make their own choices, all hell breaks loose.  Apparently, that’s what the author of the original short story is interested in.  Phillip K. Dick – describes part of his philosophy like this: 

"However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes that *do* fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe--and I am dead serious when I say this-- do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things."

Last time I checked, chaos is rarely good for the lives, happiness and fulfillment of individual people.  Chaos usually results in pain, suffering and moves backward rather than forward.

That is the heart of what Satan hopes to do.  Satan wants to undo everything God created that was good.  He targets everything God loves and desires destroy it.  He desires everything to spiral into chaos so he can replace it with his own order.

God in the Adjustment Bureau is the bad guy trying to squash our freedom.  His plans for us takes away the idea self-determination.  In order for us to be fulfilled in this life we must free ourselves from God’s restraints.

While the movie was engaging, what it attempts to teach about God is destructive.  It reveals the thoughts and attitudes many people have toward faith in God and why they resist it.  God is stifling.  God doesn’t really care about me.  I don’t want to be His puppet. 

It also reveals what they must think about those who believe and trust God and His plan.  I readily acknowledge that God has a plan and is moving this universe to His desired goal.  I readily acknowledge that I am not the most important part of the story and it doesn’t revolve around me or even my happiness.  I regularly teach that God is less interested in my happiness than He is my faith. 

1 Peter 1:6b-7—“though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Faith is His goal in us. And not just a blind faith, but a vibrant, growing and passionate faith that is able to overcome great obstacles through His strength.  The faith He desires is a trusting experience of Him.  We know Him because we have walked with Him, heard His voice and fought with Him through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

The amazing thing about it is that He wants to involve me at all.  He gives me the Privilege of participating in what He is doing.  In fact my participation is important and has eternal impact.  God is telling a great story and He invites us to be a part of it.  He is not distant or far away, but in an on-going relationship with His creation.

A great introduction to this concept is a short book called Epic by John Eldredge.

Adjustment Bureau reveals the skeptic’s fear and concern of a Sovereign God and the desire to get out from under that control.  It attacks the idea that Christians can believe in Freedom working in harmony with Sovereignty.  It’s actually an ongoing discussion within the Christian community regarding issues around Calvinism; Predestination v. Freewill.

So it’s OK to be having these discussions but let’s do so from a position of faith rather than doubt.  In a position of wanting to know Him more, not push Him away.  Also keep in mind that this movie is teaching a mindset and philosophy that will harden people to the truth of what God is doing.

So it is important that we watch these movies with a discerning eye.  It is also helpful to be able to engage their ideas and philosophies, otherwise, the lessons the authors or directors intend will be the only perspective people ever hear, learn and incorporate into their worldview.

We as believers in Jesus can be a part of adjusting the eternal destiny of those who are trapped in darkness when we participate in sharing the truth of the Good News.  We in the church must engage what our culture is trying to say about God because these movies are powerful and influential.  Paul warned us to not be taken captive.

Colossians 2:8—“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
May we be given the wisdom and discernment to see through what the world hopes will blind us.

No comments: