The Minority Report Review
This week I watched Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise. It raised a question that many people of my generation are probably asking: have all great movies been directed by Steven Spielberg? Minority Report is a science fiction action thriller inspired by a short story by Phillip K. Dick. The basic premise is that in the future, scientists and government leaders have found a way to prevent murder forever. By utilizing a few humans with special abilities to see future crimes, they set up an entire organization to predict and prevent violent crime. What happens if the technology is turned against on of the PreCrime agents? What happens if those preventing crime pursue an innocent man? John Anderton is the captain of the Precrime unit. He has been scarred by deep family tragedy, but dutifully works to prevent crime in the District of Columbia. Just as the PreCrime program is about to go national, and Precrime is under intense scrutiny, John is pegged as the next murderer. He goes on the run whil trying desperately to prove his innocence. His only help lies in the fragile minds of the Precogs themselves.
The futurism in Minority Report is stunning. There are a couple of great innovations that seem to mirror what we see in our culture today. The first is the use of technology to create personalized advertising. When someone walks into a department store, a computer conducts a retinal scan to determine identity, and then asks personalized questions based on past purchases. Walking through the streets and corridors of the city, John Anderton is assaulted by electronic billboards calling out his name. This coincides with two modern trends: new identity technology and personalized advertising. Companies have long sought technology that would allow them to tailor ads to consumers. In Minority Report, this technology is incredible in potential, but also somewhat frightening. A second scientific trend is the rise of high tech surveillance. The PreCrime unit utilizes high tech weapons with which to catch criminals, ranging from jet packs to robotic spiders equipped with retinal scanners. Across the city, government tracking devices scan the eyes of all who pass by. This powerful technology is portrayed as useful, not sinister, but it still creates concerns about privacy and government abuse. Prisoners are kept in a dreamlike state, away from society. Add in to the mix high tech cars that seem to drive themselves (vertically as well as horizontally), and plants bio-engineered to act as attack dogs, and you have a vision of the future that seems possible yet dazzling. The science behind the Precogs themselves is never explained. The three humans dreaming in a quiet pool are somehow able to predict the future, through the powerful psychological impressions make my the human desire to kill another. How these traverse time is unknown, especially as we finally realize that what the Precogs see does not always happen. The psychology remains a mystery, but we see the dreadful effects of lives spent dreaming of murder.
The plotting and characterization of the film are both excellent. The plot is particularly winding. The use of the technology to set up an innocent man was inevitable, but the filmmaker disguises the plot by introducing a surprising antagonist at the very end. Just when it seems that the movie will be a simple chase, something happens to change the game. The use of foreknowledge is particularly intriguing, as the Precogs are always giving a picture of what is coming. As the plot goes along, mysteries long though solved are reexamined, and the future is always uncertain. The characters are well-developed. In particular, John Anderton is revealed to be a man living two lives. He is a dedicated employee, and a man deeply scarred by his past. The emotional story of his son is well illustrated by John’s reaction to the holographic memory films of his son, memories that seem to drive him into drug use. The character who ends up being the villain is not who he first seems, and the woman who invented PreCrime is convincing as well as disturbing. The aesthetic side of the film is predictably good. It was one of those movies where I found it hard to look away. The best word for it is intense. The effects gave an excellent picture of a city years into the future. I did feel that the “creep” factor was taken a little too far. John’s eye surgeon seems creepy for no particular reason; the tension is built up and nothing happens. Definitely not a film for young children.
As with all great science fiction, Minority Report deals with deep ideas that touch on philosophy. The first is the concept of foreknowledge and inevitability. If future murders are known, are you bound to commit them? An investigator asks how PreCrime can arrest someone for a crime they haven’t committed. John Anderton responds by rolling a ball off a ledge. The investigator catches it, and the two discuss the philosophy of the PreCrime program.
John Anderton: Why’d you catch that?
Danny Witwer: Because it was going to fall.
John Anderton: You’re certain?
Danny Witwer: Yeah.
John Anderton: But it didn’t fall. You caught it. The fact that you prevented it from happening doesnt change the fact that it was *going* to happen.
John himself is caught in a paradox. The PreCogs show him committing murder, and later he finds himself in the room from the vision, with a gun in his hand and every reason to shoot. Can he still exercise his free will and put the gun down? The Precog Agatha keeps reminding him: “You can choose.” The film seems to balance both foreknowledge and free will, mirroring the biblical and philosophical dilemma. The film also deals with the theme of government power. Although the PreCrime program is turned on John, and is eventually totally dismantled, the film does not take a strong stance against government surveillance. Instead, if prefers to show the insidious surveillance in action, instead of having a character rant against the government. The scene where mechanical spiders are scanning retinas in an apartment building is particularly disturbing, as innocent families are harassed by government agents. The position of the film towards PreCrime itself is ambiguous. Initially John believes in the program, but in the end it is ended. It isn’t clear whether anything other than the pragmatic problems with Precogs caused this shutdown. Disturbingly, the Precogs seem to be victims themselves, used by the government, but subjected to tremendous stress. The film raises deep issues, but doesn’t solve them. Perhaps that is for the best.
I recommend this movie for fans of sci-fi and thriller movies. It has a good plot, good characters, and philosophical puzzles. Overall, it is a well-made futuristic movie for thinkers. (Think Inception with Tom Cruise). And with Steven Spielberg as director, you know it will be a winner.