I just returned from seeing The Adjustment Bureau. At face value I liked it. The acting was good. The idea was somewhat novel. And it had a happy ending. However, the subtleties did not sit well with me. Like most things in popular culture, there are subtle inoculations and messages that are instilled into the consumer. Movies, music and television programs do a good job of playing to emotions in order to get the viewer to sympathize with a certain belief, morality or axiom. The viewer doesn't realize it, but over time these simple movies, songs and programs begin to infect the consumer with the conveyed worldview. It causes the viewer to take a certain side in a controversy later on in life without even realizing it. In the Abolition of Man, Lewis writes about the effects that a simple literary lesson, written by authors he dubbed Gaius and Titius, has on a child.
"The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all. The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him."(C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Ch. 1 Men Without Chests)
Popular entertainment can do the same thing to the viewer. At least it can do the same thing to a viewer who has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It's just a song, right? Most people, especially youth, who gobble up popular culture are as fictile as the little boy in Lewis' example. Of course, they would deny this, but where else are they forming their worldview? Home? Church? Yeah right. They're being inoculated with false assumptions by the popular culture with which they surround themselves. And The Adjustment Bureau conveys a scathing deviation from Truth. Namely, that your plan is better than God's plan. This can be stated many different ways, but if I had to boil it down to one assumption, it would be that. To better understand this, let's look at the storyline.
The Adjustment Bureau is about David Norris (Matt Damon), the authentic, ambitious and young congressman who cannot help but fall head over heals for the beautiful Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt). Elise is captivating, a dancer, has a witty sense of humor and a dash of spontaneity. Elise and David are perfect for each other. Their conversations are filled with playful, witty banter. They keep running into each other serendipitously. And they kissed the very first time they met. The chemistry between the two is undeniable. They're meant to be together. However, the Adjustment Bureau does not plan for them to be together. They have a different plan. David is supposed to become the President of The United States and Elise is supposed to become one of the world's greatest dancers. If they stay together these plans will not unfold. This plan is written out by the Chairman. "Humans have many different names for him," says Harry Mitchell (Anthony Mackie), Damon's assigned adjuster who keeps him on track with the plan. Mackie's statement about the Chairman is an allusion to God, Providence, the Supreme Being...what have you. The adjusters are alluded to as angels. These angels all carry around little books and everything has to go according to the plan in the book. No allusion is made about the book being the Bible, but for the sake of my argument, let's say the subtlety is there.
The problem comes in with the subtleties. On the surface, there is really nothing wrong with the film. But we know, from Lewis' observation that these things teach. And they teach things that will put us on one side of a controversy somewhere later on down the road. So what is under the surface? During the climactic chase towards the end of the film, Matt Damon declares in a tone of revelatory conviction, "this can't be wrong."
"Why is it wrong for us to be together?" Blunt asks.
"Because their book says it's wrong!" Damon replies.
BAM! That's it. Inoculation complete. This won't hurt at all. Just look away and you'll feel a little discomfort. There, it's all over.
And what exactly is being inoculated against? Truth. Here's where I place my cards on the table and bring out the issue that I annoyingly will not let die. A certain battle is being fought in the spiritual realm, which spills out into every area of our lives, to include movies at the theater. Most of us have been hoodwinked into falling onto the wrong side of this controversy. Any reasonable person who reads The Bible will logically conclude that "anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12) And "Christians" do not want to commit adultery. Or do they? They do. One out of every two "Christian" marriages are not really marriages, but adulterous affairs. Why this contradiction? Setting weak leadership and outright disobedience aside, it's because we have been conditioned to go with our emotions and not our reason. The Book says we can't be together? Well my heart says this is right, so let's make our own destiny. Let's fulfill our own plan. The Adjustment Bureau is just one example of inoculation or conditioning. The message becomes tiresome and is seen over and over in everything from Full House to Fireproof to the endless amount of popular songs telling us to listen to our hearts. Well guess what, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) And so-called believers will claim that the Holy Spirit has led them into their second, third, fourth marriage. Sorry guys, Scripture trumps what you call the Holy Spirit and what I call your unrestrained emotional passions. Stop co-opting something beautiful for your deceitful heart's wicked desires. I digress (or do I?). Back to the film.
The movie is resolved by Matt Damon committing to the relationship and going over the top to find God in order to allow the two to be together. His incessant devotion to his significant other and his pursuit of God results in Damon's salvation. God sees his devotion and decides to rewrite the plan so that they can be together. Go Matt Damon! What a great picture of what we see in church. I'm sure this is the plan that all of the so called believers who are living in adultery have decided to pursue. Hey God, I didn't really like your way so I decided to do my own thing. I'm also pursuing You by being involved in every ministry, Bible study, and social event my church has to offer. And my unfettered devotion to my second wife will result in salvation right? As Rob Bell puts it, love wins. I hope that works out for you on Judgment Day.
"Just remember, we tried to reason with you."