In the movie, “The Adjustment Bureau,” ambitious politician David Norris (played by Matt Damon) and rising star ballerina Elise Sellas (played by Emily Blunt), fall in love. All is well until their romance is abruptly interrupted by mysterious forces.
The Adjustment Bureau is a team of men in dark suits and felt hats who pull various maneuvers in an attempt to keep the couple apart. For reasons we’re not clear about, the Chairman (God?) of the Bureau (Heaven/Eternity?) sees trouble with this relationship. It does not fit into his “plan” for either of them.
After a series of odd and sometimes dangerous situations, David Norris, in a clandestine meeting arranged by the Bureau, is confronted by a dignified man in a suit and hat named Thompson who is some sort of senior advisor to the Chairman.
He has a serious discussion with Norris in which Norris is told in no uncertain terms that he is to no longer see Elise. Or else his memory will be erased and he’ll be, well, a blank slate for the Chairman to write whatever he wants on it.
David Norris is not the kind of man to be told what to do. Bewildered by this strange set up he responds to Thompson:
David Norris: What ever happened to Free Will?
Thompson: We actually tried Free Will before. After taking you from hunting and gathering to the height of the Roman Empire, we stepped back to see how you'd do on your own. You gave us the Dark Ages for five centuries... until finally we decided we should come back in. The Chairman thought maybe we just needed to do a better job of teaching you how to ride a bike before taking the training wheels off again. So we gave you the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Scientific Revolution. For six hundred years, we taught you to control your impulses with reason, then in 1910, we stepped back. Within fifty years, you'd brought us World War I, the Depression, Fascism, the Holocaust and capped it off by bringing the entire planet to the brink of destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis. At that point, a decision was taken to step back in again before you did something that even we couldn't fix. You don't have free will, David. You have the appearance of free will...You have free will over which toothpaste you use or which beverage to order at lunch, but humanity just isn't mature enough to control the important things.
David Norris: So you handle the important things? The last time I checked, the world is a pretty screwed-up place.
Thompson: It's still here. If we had left things in your hands, it wouldn't be.
“Humanity just isn’t mature enough to control the important things.” Like the biblical David’s stone, that one hits us right between the eyes.
We might think these days, Would to God, or the Chairman, or Whomever, that He or She would get back control of things and straighten the world out and put it on a more noble path of higher living. Just force us all to behave and stop this exasperating scene of tumult and preposterousness and psychopathy currently running the show here and across the world.
The hard truth is, there is no One, or Thing, or Force, controlling us but ourselves. It’s up to each of us as human beings to treat one another and our world with respect and kindness and reverence. That great line from the brilliant astrophysicist, Carl Sagan, comes to mind: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
If there is a Chairman out there in the cosmos, he has given us the power to form our lives in responsible, beautiful ways. We control our destiny. We make our own choices. There is no one to blame but ourselves if we screw all of this up. Out of moral blindness, out of unchecked selfishness, out of cruelty or inner wounds or broken minds or just messy living, we are the ones who brought us to where we now are.
But, as our Olympians are showing us, and not just ours but all of them across the world, there are innate forces deep within all of us that can lift us into incredible courage, into stunning self-discipline, into noble feats of sportsmanship and brotherhood, into healthy competition, and into community and cooperation that reign down the glories of humankind’s unending potential for greatness, excellence, and incorruptibility.
No men in suits and hats, no Chairman, can ever stop that.
© 2016 Timothy Moody