The Big Picture

  • The star-studded cast of
    includes actors who have worked together in Nolan’s previous films and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well as others.
  • The Adjustment Bureau
    dives into the unsettling concept of free will being an illusion, challenging viewers to reflect on their choices.
  • Sci-fi stories like
    The Adjustment Bureau
    serve as mirrors to our society, exploring deep human connections and the control of fate.

The enormous excitement for Christopher Nolan‘s Oppenheimer was in no small part due to its enormous cast of famous talent. As such, it’s no surprise that a large number of its cast members have starred in several films and franchises together before Oppenheimer. Most obvious is the inclusion of Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Matthew Modine, and David Dastmalchian, who all appeared in at least one of Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. Oppenheimer‘s Florence Pugh, Robert Downey Jr., David Dastmalchian, and even Matt Damon have all appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe too. But one pairing, who have been seen together during press for Nolan’s atom-bomb epic, may ring a bell for keen-eyed film fans. In 2011, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt starred together in a sci-fi adventure cut from the same cloth as Nolan’s Inception or Tenetone that deserves far more attention than it’s been given.

The Adjustment Bureau was written and directed by Ocean’s Twelve screenwriter George Nolfi in his directorial debut. The film is based on the short story Adjustment Team by Philip K. Dick, whose other sci-fi stories have brought us such cinematic adaptations as Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report. The film stars Damon as a U.S. Congressman and Blunt as a ballerina whose lives become entangled in a Matrix-level conspiracy when being together means fighting a higher power. The Adjustment Bureau received largely positive critical reviews and was even considered a box-office success, grossing $127 million against its $50 million production budget.

Adjustment Bureau poster

The Adjustment Bureau

The affair between a politician and a contemporary dancer is affected by mysterious forces keeping the lovers apart.

Release Date
March 3, 2011

George Nolfi


George Nolfi , Philip K. Dick

Fight for your fate.

‘The Adjustment Bureau’ Is a Sci-Fi Romance

David Norris (Damon) is a New York senatorial candidate whose drunken mooning during a college reunion makes the papers and costs him the election. Escaping the crowds to reflect on this, David enters the men’s room, where he finds a beautiful gatecrasher named Elise (Blunt) hiding from security. The chemistry between the two is instant, and they kiss, but when David’s campaign manager Charlie (Michael Kelly) summons David to give a speech, Elise excuses herself, and David regrets not getting her number when he had the chance. According to fate, this was meant to be the only time these two made contact, and to prevent them from running into each other again, Agent Richardson (John Slattery) instructs his underling Harry (Anthony Mackie) to spill coffee on David’s shirt in the street. When Harry falls asleep though, he misses his chance, and David and Elise exchange numbers on the bus. This causes the Adjustment Bureau to take drastic measures in putting fate back on its tracks.

When David eventually arrives at work, he fails to notice that his colleagues are frozen in time, until he finds a frozen Charlie being scanned by military-style agents with unfamiliar tech. The agents capture David and inform him of their work as agents of fate, explaining that if he agrees to never see Elise again and never tell another human about the Adjustment Bureau, they will spare him from their routine brain reset. Confused by what he just learned, David tries to recall Elise’s phone number from memory. He is then approached by a remorseful Harry. Harry warns David that the Bureau are essentially the angels and that they will stop at nothing to keep him from meeting Elise again. For three years, David rides the same bus in the hopes of running into Elise, and when he eventually does, he triggers a chase for their lives and a fight to control their own fates. The movie becomes a conspiracy-driven adventure, equal parts thrilling and romantic.

‘The Adjustment Bureau’ Deals With the Idea of Free Will

The movie depicts a world in which free will is an illusion. When David is confronted by Richardson’s superior, Thompson (Terence Stamp), he is told, “You don’t have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will. You have free will over what toothpaste you use or which beverage to order at lunch, but humanity just isn’t mature enough to control the important things.” Thompson goes on to explain how David meeting Elise three years prior was the Bureau’s doing. She inspired him to give a speech that saved his career and put him on course for becoming a future U.S. president. This foresight tempts David to give in to his successful fate. “David, you can change the world, but that doesn’t happen if you stay with her,” explained Thompson. This scene encapsulates the entire film perfectly, climaxing with the two sides of this premise’s central dramatic argument; Thompson’s statement that “you can’t outrun your fate,” and David’s rebuttal. “All I have are the choices that I make, and I choose her.”

Ultimately, the truth Thompson hides from David is that the reason being with Elise wouldn’t lead to his presidency isn’t that she would ruin his chances, but rather, that the contentment she would provide David with would be enough, and he would no longer seek approval from the public through his politics. By proving to the Bureau and its unseen Chairman just how determined they are to be together, the characters in The Adjustment Bureau illustrate the metaphorical lengths we are willing to go to for our loved ones. The film suggests that free will is a gift we don’t know how to use until we fight for it. Perhaps the Bureau’s Chairman (a proxy for God) has an overarching plan that involves people taking their responsibility seriously enough that he may one day no longer need to interfere.


‘Oppenheimer’s Matt Damon and Emily Blunt on Christopher Nolan’s “Convenient Casting” and Filming in IMAX 70mm

They also discuss reading the script in Nolan’s living room and why there isn’t a more important story to be told than this one.

Successful Sci-Fi Uses Its Material To Study Society

A man in a suit grabbing Matt Damon by the arm in The Adjustment Bureau Movie
Image via Universal

One of sci-fi’s greatest writers, Ursula K. Le Guin, defined the genre as follows: “When science fiction uses its limitless range of symbol and metaphor novelistically, with the subject at the center, it can show us who we are, and where we are, and what choices face us, with unsurpassed clarity, and with a great and troubling beauty.” In other words, it is a genre used not to simply amaze its reader with spectacle, but to study our own society through a different lens. Charlie Brooker‘s Black Mirror defines the genre similarly with its title alone; holding up a tinted mirror to the world in which our realistic situations are made clearer with the addition of an extreme metaphor. Philip K. Dick is a master of layered sci-fi storytelling, and his story for Adjustment Team is no exception.

Dick’s short story, and by virtue, The Adjustment Bureau, alludes to two principal ideas that have interested readers and audiences for centuries. The first is the conversation surrounding the control of one’s own fate, a notion explored in countless plays and pieces of literature. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar famously refers to this theme with the line, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves,” and when David and Elise come to recognize this in the film, they decide to prioritize a contented life together over fame and fortune. This leads us to the second principal idea it explores. That deep human connection is a far greater prize than career success or fortune. This is often illustrated in sci-fi by comparing artificial intelligence to real-feeling humans, but personally, my favorite example is from yet another story about an angel’s interference. It’s a Wonderful Life ends with the wise words of the angel Clarence, “No man is a failure who has friends.” Rarely are these two statements married so perfectly, and told so interestingly as they are in The Adjustment Bureau.

The Adjustment Bureau is available for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S.

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