The Adjustment Bureau

I have sometimes contemplated what a Mormon movie that depicts how divine or angelic beings interact with mortals would look like. How would such a movie be different from Highway to Heaven or Touched by an Angel? There are a number of movies that follow or satirize a Catholic vision. Last year I watched Inception and found myself drawing parallels between the concepts presented there and my speculation on how inspiration from the Holy Ghost might be received and processed (or resisted) on a semi-conscious level.

In this essay, I will contrast The Adjustment Bureau to what a hypothetical Mormon movie that treats some of the same themes might look like. Some good background is provided in Eric Snider’s review. The Snide one remarks “The film wisely avoids specific talk of God or religion, speaking in terms that allow viewers to apply the ideas to their own beliefs, whatever they may be.”

<Spoiler Warning>

The Hierarchy

The Adjustment Bureau has at least four discernable levels of hierarchy. At the top is the Chairman who makes plans for the benefit of mankind. At the bottom is the individual case worker that handles most of the day to day interventions with a person. He has a supervisor who sometimes consults with a council of experts on possible courses of actions. In between this supervisor and the Chairman is what I would call an arch-angel who possesses more knowledge about considerations that went into the Chairman’s plans and competence to carry out those plans.

It is unclear how a Mormon movie would depict a hierarchy of divine beings. It could follow a church model of home teachers, quorum presidents, etc or an ancestral one. There is Mormon folklore about guardian angels, hymns and scriptures about noble and great ones participating in divine councils, and accounts of angelic administrations. We don’t yet have a complete picture of how heavenly beings influence events on Earth. It is more common to attribute divine intercession more directly to members of the Godhead and cut out any middle man or angel. Although there is some notion of delegated authority in Mormonism, I think that some might find it troubling to deal with a bureaucracy that robotically acts into in accordance to a general policy or by rogue underlings acting on their own prerogative and more limited knowledge.

The difference between humans and angels

“Angels” in The Adjustment Bureau live a lot longer than mortals, have advanced models for predicting human behavior, wear special clothing and know techniques that allow for faster transportation to and fro parts of the mortal and divine realms, and place greater weight on rational (as opposed to emotional) decision making.  They walk openly among humans disguised as such and do things like preventing phone reception, meddling with mental processes, and orchestrating events under the radar. On special occasions they manifest their true nature to humans, but require this to be kept secret. They can share some of their knowledge and power with humans.

In Mormonism, humans and angels are part of the same species albeit in different stages of progression. On rare occasions prophets become honorary members of the divine council (Amos 3:7) and granted special powers (Helaman 10:5-7). Prophets sometimes are told to keep angelic interactions secret and sometimes told to proclaim it energetically. Sometimes in Mormon tradition ordinary mortals entertain angels (or the Three Nephites) without recognizing them as such (Heb 13:2), at least not immediately.


The Adjustment Bureau views the Dark Ages somewhat like James Talmage does in The Great Apostasy. When the Chairman ceases to actively intervene in man’s affairs, civilization tends to decline. The Chairman withdraws when men clamor or rebel for more independence and the right to govern themselves. A Mormon movie could have some fun with themes of apostasy and restoration or situate bursts of angelic manifestations and revelations within the prosperity and pride cycle presented in the Book of Mormon.

Morality and Free Will

The agents in The Adjustment Bureau and perhaps the Chairman himself sometimes allow bad things to happen (some things are up to chance) or actually promote bad things happening. The former was explained, in part, as a lack of omnipotence. The latter is explained by the end justifying the means.

For most of the movie, The Adjustment Bureau makes a point that humans have the free will to make choices as long as those choices do not create a ripple or disturbance in the Chairman’s big plans. On important matters humans are manipulated into making choices that further the plan and hence only have the illusion of free will. However, a persistent individual can ultimately make choices contrary to that planned.

A Mormon movie would, of course, not try to get a PG-13 rating by throwing in a swear word and depicting pre-marital sex. It would not depict drug use and suicide as in accordance with a divine plan. A Mormon movie could conceivably celebrate a scenario where a couple sacrifice worldly ambitions to put their relationship and family first.

A Mormon movie would presumably draw from 2 Nephi 2 and have a competing entity, call it (say) the Temptation Bureau. The manipulative tactics that the Adjustment Bureau employs to destroy agency seems to me to be more in line with what a Mormon would expect from a Satan-led campaign. A Mormon movie would place a greater emphasis on prayer and invited divine intervention as a means of co-creating a plan for one’s life.

Despite not being a Mormon movie and ultimately punting on the nature of God, The Adjustment Bureau ends on an Open Theistic note that I find refreshing. I look forward to learning what others think about these and other themes in the movie.

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About Keller

I was a BYU baby while my parents finished up their advanced degrees in psychology. I have lived in some interesting places growing up: near the Lagoon at Layton; in an old polygamist house in Manti with an upper-story door that opened to the middle of a roof; in Rigby,Idaho, the self-proclaimed birthplace of television; then over to Sweet, a small town north of Boise near some fun river rapids; then for my high school years in Lund (named after a counselor in the First Presidency), Nevada; and full circle back to Utah County for college. Currently I work as an electrical engineering in the defense and space industry in Salt Lake City. I have served in a single's ward elder's quorum presidency and as a hymn book coordinator. I also served a mission in the Bible Belt (Oklahoma City) and to prepare I became an avid reader of FARMS publications. This has lead me to become a volunteer for FAIR as way of furthering my apologetic interests and helping those struggling with tough issues to find useful information. I have also started an interfaith blog to dialog with Catholics and practice "holy envy." I like blogging on historical topics and doing genealogical research.

3 thoughts on “The Adjustment Bureau

  1. Pingback: The Ridiculous and the Sublime – March 17, 2011 « The Ridiculous and the Sublime

  2. I think it was pretty clear from a Mormon perspective that the Adjustment Bureau was about Satan. Satan is always trying to take away our free will and our choices and is always at odds with love because God is love. The Adjustment Bureau was designed to take away our choices and force us to do what they wanted. Exactly the plan Satan presented.

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