Jay Michaelson analyses the theme of fate in The Adjustment Bureau:
"Fate is supposed to be fate: it’s final, and it’s the way it is. In religious and spiritual systems that subscribe to it, the best thing a religious person can do is resign oneself to it, to cultivate the serenity to accept the things one cannot change, to paraphrase theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. But not in Hollywood, where human agency knows no bounds. Of course Norris shouldfollow his heart, disobey God’s plan, and marry the girl of his dreams. And of course he can; while Norris frets about free will, it’s obvious that he does have it. He’s up against some powerful adversaries, but he calls the shots. We know all this because we know Hollywood’s sentimental religion, which is indeed a kind of neo-Romantic fanatic narcissism. And it is fanatic: once Norris makes his decision, he risks his own life, her life, and the life of countless collateral damage casualties."In this of course, the film delivers exactly the same message as almost every other modern film on the subject of that old pseudo-debate, free will versus fate. Not that Hollywood was always like this. Reading Stefan Kanfer's recent biography of Bogart I was struck by how casually contemporary audiences accepted the fact of Bogart's death at the end of his movies, and how the notion of paying the price for living in a fallen, sinful world seems enfolded in the very shadows of film noir. It's so rare that anyone dies at the movies these days, which is why I was so struck by Jeremy Renner's last stand in The Town, slurping on a coke before stepping out into a hail of bullets. I blame video games, and in particular the modular thinking that allows heroes to choose between an array of plot options which they don and doff like a clip-on tie. Once Keanu Reeves got the chance of a do-over in The Matrix, downloading whichever skills were necessary to get him out of the hole he happened to find himself in, that lovely bone-weariness with which Bogart ascended the mountain to meet his fate in High Sierra, or made his way through the jungle in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, was lost from American movies, seemingly for good. Bogart didn't need a do-over. Once was enough.