The Adjustment Bureau - My Interpretation Of The Metaphors
My interest in this film came about after hearing that it was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Blade runner, Next, Minority Report and Total Recall are just a few of the films that have been based on his stories. The storyline ‘Do we control our destiny, or do unseen forces manipulate us’ also piqued my interest.
Now that I have watched the film I can see that it has an incredible amount of metaphors. However, it wasn’t until the end of the film that I fully grasped what the metaphors were. I believe the main metaphors contained within this film are about success and following what makes us happy.
These metaphors of the film are my personal view and are based on my own interpretation of what these metaphors are and there meaning. They are in no way the right or only interpretation, they are just my view.
This will also mean that I will miss out certain parts and only describe what stood out for me and what I felt was significant. It will not be like a story board where I will describe the whole story.
So with the disclaimer of sorts out of the way, let’s begin.
Do We Control Our Destiny, Or Do Unseen Forces Manipulate Us?
First I will start with my interpretation of the storyline ‘Do we control our destiny, or do unseen forces manipulate us’. I believe that although it can seem as though unseen forces or something external to us is controlling our life, it is ultimately the result of repression and dissociation, of what is going on internally for us. I think this is partly the result of not being informed, at any stage of our education, that what is going on inside of us i.e. our emotions, feelings and thoughts, is actually having a direct effect on our reality. In day to day life it is the behavioural approach is often enforced, the challenge I have, is that the deeper causes are often neglected and this can potentially be another form of repression. These inner aspects are more of less taboo, and I believe due to the general ignorance around this, a lot of dysfunctional is created at a personal level and in our society and the world.
So as the repression and dissociation continues to grow in us, external problems will also increase in size. And as this happens the external problems will become more overwhelming and disempowering.
I think that our own ego likes to believe that there are unseen forces or something ‘out there’, so that it can avoid having to face itself, or should I say so that we don’t ever take the time to observe it.
The Moment David And Elis Meet
The first part of the film that comes to mind is the restroom scene where David (Matt Damon) and Elise (Emily Blunt) are brought together. Here we see that they have deep level of attraction, something that could be described as a resonance to each other. This interaction doesn’t last long though, as David has to perform his speech. After it has happened he begins to wonder if he will ever see her again. On his way to work the next day he just ‘happens’ to see her on the bus and quite naturally he can’t believe it. Is this destiny or fate or is something else going on? I suppose it also depends on the meaning one has for those words.
The vocations that David and Elis have are great when it comes to balance, with David being the politician he has a role that is of leadership and power, which is the masculine side and Elise having the role of the feminine with her ballet dancing. So together, they each have a side that can create great balance between them and the potential for great growth.
The chance encounter that David and Elis have in the restroom shows that they are attracted to each other and first it could seem to be just a chance meeting. However as they continue to meet, more can be said about their connection and how true it really is. This is a great example of what resonance is, that no matter how big the odds are, if we have a deep connection to someone or something it won’t matter what the outside world throws at us.
Meeting The Adjustment Team
It is soon after this that we meet the adjustment team, who come across as secret agents. Upon David’s arrival at work, he is captured and taken to an empty building. When the adjustment team open a door, it doesn’t open to the next room; it can open to a completely different place in the city.
The first thing David tries to do is escape, which comes to no avail. Here Richardson (John Slattery), who seems to be the person in charge at this point, tells David that free will is an illusion and that he has no free will and to top it all off he also says that he is not allowed to see Elise again. David resists and asks why, Richardson responds by saying that she is not part of the plan. This is where the whole question of was it destiny, fate or because of a resonance that they met or was is something else. Richardson says that it wasn’t meant to happen and that he only met her the first time so that it would cause him to give a great speech. This makes David believe that there must be something going on between them or they wouldn’t have met for a second time. The number that Elise gives to him is burned by the Adjustment team, this leaves David hopeless and makes him wonder if he will ever see her again, in a city with 9 million people.
So I think the Adjustment Bureau would best be described as a team of people who control the outcome of people’s lives. They also tell him that he is not allowed to tell anyone about what happened to him.
Finding Elise Again
Three years later and after David has travelled on the same route that he met her on, he spots Elise walking outside while he is on the bus. He explains to her that he lost her number and that he has been looking for her the whole time. And although it has been three years the attraction they felt for each other is still there and they arrange to meet that night for her ballet performance. The adjustment team are ever present and as they have the ability to control people within a certain radius, many challenges arise. David’s work colleague Charlie (Michael Kelly) soon appears and tries to convince David to come and do his speech, which he postponed upon meeting Elise.
Charlie is not the only one being mind controlled, as the venue that Elise will be dancing at is also changed with the help of the adjustment team, so that David goes to the wrong place and loses contact with Elise again.
I think the mind control aspect and having the ability to control what people do, is an interesting metaphor. For me it is an exaggerated example of what can happen when we don’t think for ourselves and end up operating unconsciously and from a place of reaction. There is a saying that says ‘If we don't stand for something, we'll fall for anything’. So I believe, if we have no sense of Identity, real identity, we can easily go along to get along. If the only thing we know about ourselves is what other people have told us, we will have no real foundations or understanding about who we are and therefore we will be easily influenced. This can all come about through our need for approval and as this is so deep and primal, it can be incredibly hard to observe. As a result of this, we can end up compromising our own truth to be accepted.
The Ballet Rehearsal
As soon as David has given his speech, he rushes to find a taxi that will take him to the ballet rehearsal. However all of the taxi drivers have been mind controlled and drive straight by him. He manages to find a taxi driver in the end and arrives at the performance.
They spend the night together, and out of the blue Elise receives four calls in one morning from her ex boyfriend. This makes David think that the Adjustment team are at work again.
This could be to test David, to see how committed he is to being with Elise, to see how important she is to him.
The Ballet Performance
The next day David has a talk show to attend to and once it finishes he opens a door and ends up in a big building. Here he meets Thomson (Terence stamp). He tells David that if he stays with Elise he will ruin her career and his own and if he leaves her Elise will become the most famous dancer and choreographer in the country and that David could become the president. He rejects these claims and wants to see her. David says that as he’s found Elise he doesn’t need to become president and that the emptiness he feels when he’s not in front of people, has gone. Thomson allows David to leave and says he has enough time to make the performance.
While David says that Elis fills the emptiness within him, I don’t think this is necessarily a healthy reason to base a relationship on. Although Elis could assist David in letting go of the perception that there is emptiness there and that he is not whole already, it could also create desperation and neediness on David’s part. And that if Elis where to leave the feeling could return again, with no real growth occurring .However, I think that if David observes those needs he will be able to let go and realise that he is already whole.
The part where Thomson tells David that he will ruin Elis career if they stay together, brought to my attention two metaphors. The first one is that we can easily become self centred and think about our own needs forgetting whether it would be best option. And only thinking about what will give us what we want now and ignoring what could be the long term consequences. The second metaphor is that we can feel the pressure to follow other people’s expectations of what is right and wrong and what we should be doing with our life. And out of our need for acceptance we can end up pleasing others and making ourselves miserable.
It doesn’t go well for Elise though, as she falls and sprains her ankle. They say it will be healed in about a month. After this David takes the advice of Thomson and stays away from Elise
Elise And David Unite Once More
David reads in the paper that Elise is going to be getting married soon. And with the help of Harry (Anthony Mackie) he finds a way to see Elise. Harry could be described as the only member of the adjustment bureau that is on David’s side and wants to help him. He could be a metaphor for the people and situations in our life that support us no matter how we see ourselves and who will encourage us to follow what makes us happy. I believe that the more committed we are to living our life that way, the more assistance we will receive from people and the world.
He says to Elise that the reasons he disappeared were because of what Thomson said about ruining her career. They use Harry’s magic hat and open the doors to get closer to the chairmen. Elise doesn’t know what is happening and starts to panic and soon they are being followed by the Adjustment team. The more doors they go through and the more David tells Elise, the more she believes what David is telling her. They continue their search for the chairman and they end up in the adjustment bureau headquarters.
The Truth Is Revealed On The Roof
When they get to the top of the building, they find themselves cornered by the adjustment team. They begin to kiss and Elise says she loves David and at that moment the adjustment team disappear. I believe it is at this moment that the fundamental metaphor of the film is revealed. Soon after Harry appears on the roof and explains what the adjustment bureau is really about. I was aided in understanding what the metaphor was with the literal meaning of the film at this point.
Harry explains to them what has happened and as they have showed courage to go for what they wanted, they have earned the right to be together.
The Adjustment Bureau to me would be an exaggerated projection of what is going on at a deeper level for us and I would say this is the result of what we are holding onto from our past. As although in this film it was a group of people called the Adjustment Bureau who were trying to stop David and Ellis from doing what made them happy, in our everyday life it is not as extreme and can show up in the form of family, friends, people we work with and numerous other types of people. At a more internal level we can also have thoughts and feelings that keep us from living the life we truly want to live and what then cause us to behave in ways that can push our own happiness away.
I believe that it was also showing us that when we show commitment to following our truth and what makes us truly happy the universe (or whatever you believe it is) will be there to assist us. And that the more me move form a place of control, which is our ego, to a place of trust, which could be described as coming from our heart, we will see that this is so.
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Oliver J R Cooper
Oliver JR Cooper
Author of 26 books, Transformational Writer, Teacher & Consultant.
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That which is contained within these articles is based on my own empirical understanding and is true for me at the time they were written. However, as I continue to grow, what I perceive as the truth will inevitably change and as a result of this - parts of these articles may not reflect my current outlook.