Reel Lessons

Reel Lessons: The Adjustment Bureau

Sometimes fate needs a helping hand... from the men in hats.

What's this about men in hats?
Also known as caseworkers from the Adjustment Bureau.

The movie is loosely based on a short story by Philip K Dick, which imagines a world in which fate is determined by a mysterious figure known as the Chairman and enforced by special agents.

In hats?
Yes, but they're no ordinary hats. They're magic hats that turn the everyday world into a series of interconnected portals, allowing the caseworkers to get around downtown New York even quicker than a bicycle courier, and much safer.

Sounds like another Matrix rip-off. What's the story?
An ambitious politician is enchanted by a charming young woman he meets in the gents' toilet of a fancy hotel, where he is about to concede defeat in a Senate race...

Any suggestions of improper conduct?
That depends on who you ask.

According to the Chairman's plan, the politician and the girl from the bathroom are not supposed to fall in love -- the chance encounter was unexpected, and has now set in motion a chain of events that lead to them spending the rest of their lives together.

How bad can that be?
The Chairman's got big plans for David Norris and there's no time for passionate, all-consuming love affairs with "interesting" people. He sends in the Adjustment Bureau to make sure the next encounter doesn't happen, but the designated caseworker falls asleep on a park bench and misses his moment.

Perhaps. But the caseworkers grab Norris anyway and explain the situation, hoping that reason will put him back on the right path.

So, what's the explanation?
That's a significant flaw in the strategy. All the caseworkers know is what the plan tells them, which isn't much, plus a bit of gossip they pick up on the side.

Do they at least have some decent gossip?
Rumour has it that Norris and the girl were destined to fall in love in an earlier version of the plan and, even though the Chairman deleted that version, elements of it keep reappearing in the new version.

Sounds like a sync problem. Is he using iCloud?
Possibly. The caseworkers review the plan using what looks like a desk journal, except that it has touchscreen pages and some sort of wifi connection to all the thoughts and emotions of everyone in the world -- basically an iPad for Creator types.

Do the caseworkers convince our hero to back off?
No. Despite having access to the aforementioned thoughts and emotions of everyone on the planet, the caseworkers are hamstrung by bureaucracy, rank amateurism, disloyalty and a thorough lack of imagination.

Aren't they, like, angels?

I see. Does the politician get his girl in the end?
Of course. Life is not predetermined -- we have free will and even a god cannot take it from us. Apparently.

You don't agree?
I'm a subscriber to the theory that we're part of a sophisticated computer simulation being run in the distant future.

Sounds implausible.
I ran it past a quant friend; he says it's an unavoidable conclusion. By the time we fully understand the universe's physical laws, we'll have the processing power to run accurate Monte Carlo simulations on everything from the Big Bang forward (and back, perhaps). Living in reality would be indistinguishable from living in one of those computer models -- and there would be millions of models, meaning that the odds of being real, rather than a simulation, are vanishingly small.


This story first appeared in the July 2011 issue of FinanceAsia magazine

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