New Age Banality in The Adjustment Bureau
by Tony Dayoub
In 1986, the first abortive revival of The Twilight Zone aired “A Matter of Minutes,” a short segment within an episode. Adapted by legendary science fiction writer Harlan Ellison and story editor Rockne S. O’Bannon from Theodore Sturgeon’s short story, “Yesterday Was Monday,” the mini-episode centers on a couple who wake up one day to discover that the world around them has stopped. Reality is being taken apart and rebuilt, minute by minute, by construction workers dressed in blue. Things that already exist — their furniture, buildings, and entire city streets — are all being taken apart after being used in one minute of time, only to be replaced by identical constructs in the next minute. While trying to elude a few supervisors aware of the couple’s inadvertent intrusion behind the scenes, the young husband and wife end up running across a white void, an unconstructed area of existence the workers haven’t gotten to yet. The fascinating concept proposed by this story is a variation on solipsism, the philosophical idea that existence is limited only to what we perceive. Except that “A Matter of Minutes” proposes that there is a parallel reality — that of the construction workers — which builds the components that make up the reality of their perceptible surroundings.
When I saw the stylish trailer for The Adjustment Bureau earlier this year, my thoughts immediately raced back to this Twilight Zone segment. The elements were very similar: a young couple — played by Matt Damon and Emily Blunt — on the run from a cadre of men wearing fedoras; Damon walking into an office boardroom to talk to his friend only to discover the men with hats scanning the room while his friend and other co-workers are frozen in mid-action; a fedora-clad John Slattery telling Damon he had accidentally looked “behind the curtain.” Like most critics, I try very hard to avoid forming any impressions of a film based on pre-release publicity. But as a person with certain tastes, a penchant for science fiction, an inclination toward chase movies, a partiality towards high-concept mindfucks, I admit I can’t always avoid developing a preconception about a certain kind of movie. So, full disclosure: I expected The Adjustment Bureau to fall into that particular sub-genre of science fiction involving “virtual reality,” the one which includes movies like The Matrix or Dark City, where the protagonist “tunes in” to the idea that the “real” world is simply a thin veneer over another, more complex plane of reality. The only measurable difference I could glean from the trailer is that The Adjustment Bureau would also include a more prominent streak of romance than most science fiction movies, not an unattractive notion for those of us who think cinematic sci-fi is as limited by its conventions as literary sci-fi is boundless in its concepts. Science fiction films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Fountain, and Somewhere in Time all share the idea that a predestined love affair, such as the one in The Adjustment Bureau, is important enough to supersede any quest...
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