Sunday, March 20, 2011

Theology in Movie Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Disclaimer: This is a theology review of "The Adjustment Bureau" (TAB), starring Matt Damon & Emily Blunt. So I might give away parts of the movie if you haven't seen it, although I'm going to try not to.

There hasn't been a movie to fill me with thoughts of theology the way TAB did, probably since "The Matrix." The movie plot is about determinism vs free will, maybe the longest running, mostly-un-ultimately-decided debate within the Church throughout our history. It is rife with theological comment.

Like "The Matrix", there is some good theology there. The portrayal of the juxtaposition of making choices contrary to the plan of the Chairman is excellent, and as Greg Boyd says, it might be the most intelligent Hollywood version of that debate ever (which may not be saying much, but still). Greg has an awesome review of the movie, including 5 great points on the free will/determinism debate, which you can read here.Link
But, also like "The Matrix", while some of the theology is good, ultimately it becomes the skin of the truth around a lie. The original lie, in fact.

When my friends and family asked me after what I thought of the movie, I responded something like "great movie, but maybe the most evil theology I've ever seen in a movie."

Yep, I see it as evil, and here's why: it mirrors the lie told by the serpent in the garden. If you believe the plan revealed by the One to be somehow wrong, then you should act in your own self interest, and if you do it with enough gumption and sincerity and passion, then you can rewrite the plan. In other words, you can be like God.

The movie does leave you hanging about what the main characters' future was, although the implication seemed to me to be that they lived "happily ever after". But perhaps like Adam and Eve it all went bad for them, when the Chairman gave them what they thought they wanted. But we really don't know.

So here's what I would say:

  • An all-powerful God (the Chairman) and his plan for the world (the books the agents carried) do not have to be written in stone. An omnipotent being can allow for the free choices of humans. Or angels for that matter.
  • Neither the humans nor the angels involved in this world know the outcome of the plan, and our parts we play in it are often tests, designed to grow us into the creatures we were created to be.
  • Ultimately, the greatest exercise of our free will is to choose allegiance to the One who does rule the universe, and like him, to come serving and not to be served. It does not profit a man to gain the world and yet lose his soul. This movie says that if you go after the world with sincerity and passion, you will find it. With apologies to those who see the romanticism of his pursuit of the girl of his dreams as "all that," if we pursue our dreams with no regard of the One who made us, we will only find death at the end.

Great movie, definitely worth seeing multiple times, but watch out for the subtle untruths.

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