THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU: “MY FREEDOM AND MY FAITH IN GOD” By: Joel Sagut The movie revolves around the

life of a young politician, David Norris (played by Matt Damon), and a beautiful dancer, Elise Sellas (played by Emily Blunt). The two causally met in a men‟s bathroom where David was practising his speech after a loss in his first run in the senatorial race. While they share their good chemistry, their love affair was not meant to bloom because the people from the “Adjustment Bureau” were directed to ensure that their path should not cross again. In the plan set by the Bureau, David and Elise were not meant together. Despite the work of the Bureau‟s men called as “caseworkers,” David met Elise for the second time. Elise gave David her phone number but David was unable to contact her because the caseworkers held David captive, took Elise‟s number, and gave him the warning that his memory will be reset if he would mention the Bureau‟s existence to anyone. David was especially instructed not to see Elise again. Not knowing Elise‟s family name, David (defying the Bureau‟s instructions) desperately took the same bus everyday hoping to meet Elise by chance again. Few years passed when David met Elise by chance for the third time. They reconnected and David vowed not to waste this opportunity. But the caseworkers also intervened. They were determined to separate the two to prevent the maturation of a blooming love affair. As a desperate move to further their cause, Thompson – a caseworker formerly named as „the hammer‟ because of his strong capabilities to enforce the needed adjustments – was forced to tell David that he had no future with Elise. They would destroy one another. Elise would be a hindrance to David‟s future as a President of the United States, while David would prevent the fruition of Elise‟s future as a world-renowned ballerina. Fearing all these consequences, especially the thought that he would be a liability to Elise‟s ambition, David was forced to leave Elise in a hospital, where Elise was treated after an injurious fall that was also part of the Bureau‟s plan to separate the two. Several months later, David was again campaigning for his second Senatorial race when he read from the news the announcement about Elise‟s wedding. One caseworker, Harry, who has witnessed the unfolding of the events surrounding the life of David and Elise, felt responsible for them and vowed to help David get Elise back. He also told David that the warnings given by Thompson were mostly exaggerated. Moreover, Harry taught David the secrets of the „doors‟ that facilitate their fast movements within New York. With the help of Harry‟s hat (that allows him to open the secret „doors‟), David rushed into Elise‟s wedding, took her and they eloped to fight for their love for each other. They were chased by the Bureau‟s men until they were cornered in a rooftop. Having nowhere to run, they held each other and passionately kissed. When they let go, the Bureau‟s men were gone. Thompson appeared, but Harry also interrupted him claiming that he already had with him a new plan for the life of David and Elise. The plan showed on the half of its page the events leading to their current position, while the other half was yet left blank. SOME THOUGHTS ON HUMAN FREEDOM

The concept of human freedom has already been problematized from the ancients down to our contemporary time. Plato seems to have belittled the value of personal freedom when he argued for a planned community in his Republic, where he proposed for an almost authoritarian society for the sake of peace and order (harmony). Whereas the Scholastics acknowledged human freedom, it was again problematized vis-a-vis the doctrine on the omniscient and benevolent God. A good number of literatures in the philosophies of the middle ages were directed to the very same questions which this movie presents, that is, if we are to understand the Bureau as a supernatural reality that has influence on the exercise of individual and concrete freedom of men, how then are we to understand the dynamics between moral agency and the omnipotent Divine? Modernity has tended toward the rejection of the supernatural and made as its ideal the absolutely autonomous exercise of our human freedom.

It is then understandable why one of the movie‟s critics says, “eventually the whole thing feels a little too silly to be able to take any of its inherent concerns meaningfully.” The modern mind could no longer meaningfully understand a reality that is beyond the physical. The movie, however, attempts to restate as valid the question about the supernatural vis-a-vis the exercise of moral agency. When the modern mind seems to take for granted that every person must be autonomous in the exercise of his/her free will, the movie reasserts the question about the presence of those elements beyond the self that clearly and concretely affect our exercise of personal freedom.
Even some secular thinkers, who avoid the talk of the Divine in the way it was talked about by the people of the Middle Ages, acknowledge that human agency are conditioned by factors beyond the self. Human agency is never exercised in a vacuum, but is rather practiced within a network of relationships. Martin Heidegger, for example, speaks of the human person as a “being-thrown-into-the-world.” This means that there are certain conditions „in-the-world‟ that affect the way we make our choices. Many of the factors that affect our „situations‟ as human persons are „givens‟ in our factual existence. It was not part, for example, of our choice to exist in the twenty-first century that is characterized by the kind of technology and environmental concerns that we have, and yet we could never deny that these things highly affect the kind of choices that we make each day. Simply, our choices are largely limited by the world which we inhabit. Moreover, we take note also that our bodily structures limit us, and even our intellectual activities are conditioned by these bodily limitations. We need to bear in mind that our decisions need to be informed even about those bodily conditions that limit our capacities. Any decision that ignores our „physical make-up and limitations‟ are delusionary in its very nature. In relation to this movie, we can speak of these conditions (our thrown-ness into the world and our bodily limitations) as mechanisms within the “plan” enforced by the Bureau, and these conditions largely affect the choices that we make. The adjustment bureau, at the very least, reminds us of the presence of these „worldly‟ conditions. It‟s a reminder that we could never be fully or absolutely free. Our freedom is always limited as it is conditioned by the „world‟ where we live. But even more than this, the movie rekindles the old dialectic between moral agency and Divine omnipotence. Who really is the ultimate agent in the choices that we make? Are our choices

rather determined or are we capable of becoming absolutely free? The movie on the one hand argues for the pre-determination of our choices when it speaks of the „plan‟. It seems to suggest that there are no accidents and coincidences in life. All things happen in accordance to a plan and for a purpose. On the other hand, it also seems to speak of the primacy of our moral agency, especially when it ends with a note that David and Elise can now rewrite their destiny (the half page blank) and they are now the masters of their own future. But what do we really mean by becoming masters of our own future? I recall here James Rachel, a philosopher whose article on the concept of worship I use as a basic reading in my classes for a course on Philosophy of Religion. Rachel suggests an inherent dilemma in the concept of a moral agent who worships God because the very notion of worship means that we give up our being a moral agent. But, is worship really incompatible to our moral agency? Or rather, worship now becomes the legitimate expression of our freedom that seeks for our perfection (the Absolute) amidst our basically limited existence? Is freedom not at its height when Augustine exclaimed, “my heart is restless until it rests in you”? It seems to me that the movie presents the very irony of our human freedom: “it informs us that freedom becomes our tool in mastering ourselves because we always want to become more than who we are, and yet, we could never deny the basic fact of our limited human existence.” For a believer, the act of worship becomes the best gateway to transcendence. It never denies our finitude as creatures, but it accommodates our basic desire to become more than who we are. Hence, this very irony that is present in the very nature of our moral agency justifies, rather than denies, the basic reasons why a limited creature (the human person), though free, professes his/her faith to a Divine whose „will‟ must serve as the ultimate paradigm in the attempt to answer the question, “who am I supposed to become?” QUESTIONS: 1. Can we really be absolutely free? Why or why not? 2. Why does the „adjustment bureau‟ influence the events that surround the lives of people like David and Elise? 3. In my own life, what are the best expressions of my freedom, that is, what actions have I done or am capable of which make me say that I am indeed free?

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