So who are these foreboding men in hats, who seemingly control the universe? What are their jobs, their titles? Are they angels? Do they sleep at night? We brought our questions straight to the film's director, George Nolfi.
Is this a religions movie?
George Nolfi: For me, it's not an explicitly religious movie in any way. It is a movie that takes us into the territory that any religion or big philosophical question has to deal with. This issue of, How much do your choices matter, and how much is your life laid out for you by larger issues? Whether you want to view those things as a divine plan or not. It's not my goal, in the movie, to do anything other than tell a fun story, and hopefully leave people with some questions when they walk out of the theater. And different people will take those questions in different directions.
Why did you decide to utilize such a strict corporate structure system for the Bureau?
It was sort of commenting on the bureaucratic structures that impose themselves on us in modern day lives. Whether they are a big corporate structure, like when you're trying to get the credit card company on the phone and your card has been held, and you have no idea why. Or whether you're trying to deal with government bureaucracy. I think that in the modern world most people feel oppressed by those structures. So I had a lot of fun with the idea of showing the Adjustment Bureau are also kind of oppressed by that structure. Richardson (John Slattery) and Harry (Anthony Mackie) are pretty good friends, it's like a Mentor-Mentee relationship. But then when Richardson screws up, Donaldson grinds him down and you get the feeling that Thompson (a higher level member) wouldn't tolerate any of that.
The members of the Adjustment Bureau mentioned different jobs within their world, the characters mention legal and a few other positions. Did you build out the entire structure of the Bureau?
Not in massive detail, but we did yes. The production design crew and I mapped out what the Adjustment Bureau headquarters would look like, it was about 85 stories. And how far up the totem pole Thompson was, he's like 5 levels above Richardson. That kind of thing. The "Proctors" are guys like Harry. They're out there on the street making the small adjustments that keep us on track. And when things get to a point where executive oversight is needed, the lowest level of that is Richardson. So yes I did some thinking about it. There are the Proctors, Executives, Legal Department, Chairman, and the Intervention Team, those are the big ones.
We didn't learn a lot about the past work of the Adjustment Bureau. It's only hinted at occasionally, when people allude to past cases. Can you explain about some of the past cases, like the one mentioned in the film?
OK that's one where I didn't have a lot of detail on but I loved the idea of hinting that these guys live lives that are a lot longer than humans. We ended up putting in explicitly Harry telling David (Matt Damon) that they live longer than humans. But yeah the "Torrez case" is mentioned to be 40 years ago, which makes you realize that 40 years ago for Richardson, he would have been 14 years old. It established that.
Do the Adjustment Bureau members sleep?
Yeah I view them as sleeping and having apartments and all that.
How do you insert romance into a Philip K. Dick story?
Right from the beginning when my producing partner brought me the story, she said, "it's a hard story to crack but maybe we could make it that fate is trying to stand in between the lead in the film and a woman?" I took to that idea, and felt like I could do that, why I felt that I could do that, I don't know. But once you go down that path, it's just about day to day, week to week, month to month, coming up with ideas that help you formulate the story. This was a hard script to get a handle on. And I spent five or six years with it just gestating it in my head. So it's a long process of wondering, "How you can build this in?" And you hopefully come up with something. As to how you write romance per se, I don't know I guess you look around you and look at your own life and try and come up with something that feels universal.
Are there any other science fiction stories that you're eager to adapt?
There are two projects I'm working on right now that are my own scripts, that I'm considering directing next... One does have a scifi bent to it, but it's an original story. I haven't said anything about it publicly so I can't talk about it until I have a script, but as soon as I do....
What scifi tropes are you interested in exploring?
I'm interested in anything that turns the assumptions of our world on our head. The notion that there are guys behind the curtain pulling that are pulling the strings, turns the world on its head. If you take that seriously, I thought the short story was primarily about what was real and what wasn't. It was almost like was this all a drug trip? The Twilight Zone has a lot of those "is this really happening to me" moments. I'm fascinated by things that turn the laws of physics on its head, or changes the rules or assumptions of the world and then force the character to confront that as a reality. In the Adjustment Bureau there are only about two or three minutes where Matt [Damon] is pulled into that warehouse with Richardson where he's not sure if this is real or not. But he very quickly realizes that it's real. So the when he's flung back into the real world he's stunned, but he believes it to be real. That's kind of my way into scifi.