Philip K. Dick has been the inspiration for many of cinema’s smartest science fiction movies. From “Blade Runner” to “Total Recall” to “Minority Report,” Dick’s short stories have been adapted into some of cinema’s strangest brain twisters.
“The Adjustment Bureau” is the latest of Dick’s short stories to get the big screen treatment. The original story “Adjustment Team” tells the tale of a supernatural organization that controls the fate of Earth’s population. In the movie, Matt Damon stars as David Norris, a young politician who the organization is working extremely hard to maneuver into a position of power.
The movie shares a familiar trait with other Philip K. Dick stories. Dick has always peppered his stories with a sense of paranoia and no one, regardless of how they may appear, can be trusted. Philip K. Dick created stories similar to those of “The Twilight Zone,” a sense of dread and distrust permeating through a society that appears real but never feels quite right.
In Dick’s breakout movie adaptation, Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” society lives with genetically engineered “Replicants,” clones created to work and suffer the thankless tasks. In this society lives “Blade Runners,” law enforcement officials who act as bounty hunters when Replicants get out of control. These men are sent to “retire” these renegade Replicants. By the end of the story, the audience is left questioning what it means to be human. How can a creature with no soul recognize the beauty in the world as the Replicant Roy Batty can?
Years later, Steven Spielberg adapted the Philip K. Dick story “Minority Report” into a feature length film. Once again, Dick is questioning society and the rules in which we live. In this story, the question asked is what would you do if you knew someone was going to commit a crime in the future and could stop them now? When ace police officer John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is informed he is under arrest for a murder he will commit in the future, a conundrum is faced. How can someone be guilty of a crime they never committed? And furthermore, isn’t it better to impede the rights of one person in order to save the world from a crime being committed?
“The Adjustment Bureau” takes these ideas and adds something special to the preceding. The question here is who controls your future – you or fate? And the added spice to this mix is the question of whether true love can overcome fate? The Bureau in the movie represents fate and the beings that pull the strings represent a higher power. It is clear they represent God and are angels making sure that the world moves on according to plan.
The Philip K. Dick twist enters when a man sees behind the curtain and questions the fate that “The Chairman” has mapped out. The questions in this movie surround the access to free will. As one character says, the last time humanity was given free will, the Dark Ages resulted. Philip K. Dick asks whether humanity has the good in it to decide its own destiny or does it need a higher power to make adjustments to ensure things go as planned.
Philip K. Dick wrote over 120 short stories and 44 novels in his lifetime. His work, mostly based in science fiction, questioned everything from government to religion to free will to schizophrenia. His main motif was to trust no one. These ideas hold a powerful place in today’s society and, with 18 movies based on his stories and more on the way, his ideas are a powerful tool in sparking the imagination of today’s society. “The Adjustment Bureau” may not be the best Philip K. Dick adaptation, but it retains the ability to spark discussion and philosophical musings based on its themes.
With a Philip K. Dick adaptation, that is exactly what one hopes for.