In the movie The Adjustment Bureau, based on a Phillip K. Dick story, agents of The Chairman make small and unseen interventions in people’s lives to keep a larger Plan on track. The hero of the film David, an iconoclastic politician (played by Matt Damon), is tracked quite closely because he has an important role to play in The Plan But he falls in love with Elise, a free spirited dancer (played by Emily Blount), and as you might guess, this throws The Plan off kilter. The lovers struggle to be together, separate, and risk everything to re-unite. Questions about free will, fate, and predestination are central to the movie’s themes and movement.
There was a prop in the movie that captured my attention: the notebooks of the agents. There were much flashier gadgets and tricks, but I loved this little device because it is a visual metaphor for my own ideas about the relationship between past, present, and future.
No, the agents didn’t carry iPads. In fact, when their notebooks are closed they look like the old-fashioned, marbled compositions books with the black-tape bindings. When they are opened a double page of light markings and lines of various shades of black appear. The picture isn’t static. Markings flicker and there is a dark, dotted line running vertically down the page – and moving. This line represents the present moment and is always in movement. To its left: a past of markings connected with lines that move in ups and downs across the page. An occasional sharp turn or curve is seen. To the right: the future. Here the markings are fainter and not yet connected by lines. Every once in a while a marking of an asterisk or a circle lights up, blinks, seems to try to get someone’s attention. The future issuing an invitation.
Here past, present, and future exist on the same page and in dynamic relationship to one another. In many places the future is a continuation of the past. One hardy need be psychic to see that if a certain action or behavior is continued it is likely to yield similar results as in the past, especially if nothing changes in the external environment.
The present moment is a bridge between the past and future. It is in the present moment that choice and change are possible and the future is not fixed. We can make adjustments in our lives and shift the lines of forward movement. The present moment is also the place where the unexpected makes itself known in our lives.
In the movie, David meets Elise on aNew York Citybus, but the telephone number she gives him is taken by the agents. Without her number, he rides the bus for three years to try to encounter her again. The agents, of course, monitor him and make their small adjustments to prevent the re-connection. But one day, she walks by the bus and David jumps off.
“What happened?,” a senior agent yells.
“It was Chance,” replies David’s watcher. He hold up his notebook to show a bright blinking asterisk and a line sharply diverging from the path that David had been on to connect with the star-like symbol.
No one can control Chance.
But we can work with Chance. If we are seeking something, we can work on putting ourselves in the right place at the right time as David does when not only continues to ride the bus, but is constantly looking out for Elise. If we want to avoid something, we can prepare for that as well as so many did for Hurricane Irene. For many of us, as it turns out we didn’t need that much preparation, but the path of a storm is influenced by so many factors that it was only Chance that brought the storm to one community and not to the one down the road.
Chance brings our lovers back together, but then the real work begins. They have to assess what is most important to them in life and risk everything else for the love they decide is their reason for being. In the final confrontation with the agents, the couple is about to be torn apart and have their memory erased so that the Plan can continue and their paths separated. But the Chairman intervenes impressed with their devotion; this unseen entity decides maybe The Plan had it wrong, that maybe these two should be together. It is a lovelyHollywoodending (and I admit I enjoyed it!).
More than one story was possible for our lovers … and more than one story may be possible for your life as well. How would you like to shape your path? What star in the future is calling you?