Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Oscar Deficit and The Adjustment Bureau

We're catching up on our Oscar deficit.  We watched The Kids Are All Right, a contemporary riff on D. H. Lawrence's The Fox, a story of two California lesbians (butch and femme), their kids, and a mischievous hippieish sperm donor, whose affair with Jules (the femme member, Julianne Moore) threatens to break up the family.   Great actors; not my kind of movie.

Then we decided to go to another movie.  We especially like science fiction, and hadn't seen any SF since Hereafter.

We lined up for The Adjustment Bureau, a science fiction movie starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, based on Philip K. Dick's 1954 short story, "Adjustment Team." (You can read it online here,)   The movie, unlike Dick's funny, paranoid SF allegory, is a science fiction romance, a suspenseful love story about an appealing couple, David and Elise, who win our hearts with rapid-fire banter, individualism, and glowing animal spirits, but are persecuted by  supernatural agents determined to keep them apart.  

Matt Damon plays David Norris, a working-class politician.  Before NBC calls the election for the other guy, David hides in the restroom to compose his concession speech.  Here he encounters Elise (Emily Blunt), who has crashed a wedding. She encourages him to be subversive about the PR aspects of his political career, which wins the people's trust and makes him the favorite in an election three years later.  But love is out of control and scary in this SF universe:  sex + politics threatens the world, according to the agents, and they stage incidents to keep the couple apart to control an uncontrollable society.  The plot is fueled by political paranoia (the original short story, sans love, is about the McCarthy age?) personified by secret agents of the mysterious Chairman.  

There is some humor.  "This guy is a pain in the ass," says one of the agents, irritated by David's continual defiance and independence. My husband was amused by the agents' 1950-ish dull raincoats and fedoras (I wonder:  the Men in the Gray Flannel Suits behind the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit?). The most horrifying scene is when David walks into his office and catches the agents "adjusting" his friends with machines.  Because David won't give in to pressure, they strike a deal with him:  they won't adjust him, if he doesn't tell anyone what he knows about them.  And he learns some terrifying things about the future.

We can all recognize a metaphor for the rumored undercover agents and their undermining of political movements, but we also have an Orpheus and Eurydice situation:  David guides Elise through an underworld of symbolic doors that take them on a shortcut tour of New York (I don't get that part), and shows her the terrifying world behind their world.

Fortunately the chase scenes are only moderately terrifying (I can't take too much visual horror).  Parts of this movie are excellent: parts are philosophical, like a movie-novel of ideas, parts are political, parts are chick flick, parts are sheer exciting SF, and parts don't work.  I very much enjoyed it.  The acting is good.  In a kind of crazy way it says more to me than The Kids Are All Right.  

Yes, I know.  That's why I don't write about movies.

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