Thursday, 10 March 2011

The Adjustment Bureau and Boethius

I recently watched George Nolfi's enjoyable The Adjustment Bureau. I won't offer a full review here, and I don't particularly want to create a blog-post full of spoilers [***although be warned, some discussion of the film's conclusion lies ahead].

I felt from the beginning that the movie's central concern for destiny and free-will would not be out of place in one of its many medieval predecessors. When Richardson tells his colleague that

The chairman has a plan, we only see part of it.

it seemed clear that the Boethian undertones had to be intentional. Book V of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy outlines a similar argument. Boethius complains of the apparent contradiction between divine foreknowledge and human free-will. Lady Philosophy responds:
The cause of this obscurity is that the working of human reason cannot approach
the directness of divine foreknowledge.
In other words, God can see the whole plan, we can only see part of it.

Nolfi's approach to the problem is rather different to that of Boethius. After all, like Chaucer in the Knight's Tale he proposes a situation in which the divine plan is maintained on an ongoing basis by miraculous intervention. I don't wish to spoil the movie's outcome, but when it finally progresses to its conclusion it becomes apparent that while for most of the story the audience is encouraged to share a Boethian dismay at the divine plan, by the end they are in fact encouraged to share in Lady Philosophy's view that there is a rational order underlying human experience. The Adjustment Bureau explicitly locates expression of such divine order, however, in every individual's attempt to decide their own fate.

[If you'd like a full review of the movie itself, see Slate's opinion here]