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The Blog:
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
 
Here's the text from the big Minority Report discussion, taken out of comments so it can be archived forever. I just did this because I like what everyone said, I hate to see it deleted when the comments are gone. I'd recommend if you guys are gonna wax on so well, you do it in posts so the rest of us can read it; if I hadn't checked the blog from a remote computer when I was out of town, I might have missed the whole deal.

Phyrephox says:

I'll had that I had a problem with John and his wife getting back together, and not only that but she was pregent again! Phew. Tough one to swallow for me though WAS believable it still felt that Steven was just trying to throw one more nice thing into the ending...

To which Joker replies:
I believed that -- what I didn't believe is that they separated in the first place after Sean's death. The wife's explanation about why she and John couldn't look at each other anymore didn't work for me; their divorce seemed like a contrived way to make it tougher on John and give him an arc to build to with the reunion and pregnancy at the end. Not a major complaint; I still like the ending, especially the last shot pulling back and showing all natural surroundings, a stark contrast from the anaesthitized, man-made futuristic metal and plastic of the futuristic D.C.

Another question though -- when the spiders scanned Anderton 6 hours before he was supposed to remove the bandage, how come he wasn't blinded in that left eye that was uncovered? If so, how come no mention was made of his blind left eye, and how come it looked fine for the rest of the movie? (Cool that Cruise wore brown contacts for the third act, but why make such a bid deal about "don't remove them for 12 hours or you'll go blind" and then not pay it off?)

Which mcbain responds to by saying:

Cruise lifts his eye so he can be scanned and then quickly puts the bandage on. For the rest of the film Cruise's left eye is very irritated looking but I think the idea is "don't take off the bandages and just walk around like you didn't have anything done, you'll go blind". I think the quick lift for the scan was irritating but not enough to blind that eye.

But shannon replies:

Nice try, but I can't buy that. Stormare says over and over again, five times at least, "Do NOT take off the bandage or you will go BLIND!" The bandage comes off. Cruise isn't blind in that eye, or maybe he is and we're just not told. Seems to me like the blindness is a McGuffin, just brought up to generate suspense for that one sequence, then dropped as if the audience is just going to forget about it. Not a big fuck-up, but a fuck-up nonetheless.

Claxton adds:

>I'll had that I had a problem with John and his wife getting back together,

I agree with joker on that. Also, it fit well with the rest of the movie (if the marriage's dissolution was tied to the rise of precrime, then the fall of precrime would signal the rebirth of the marriage). Also, if Spielberg reworks over and over movies about children whose fathers never come back, then MR seemed like the story of the lost father, finally returning.

Additionally, I know that someone here, please God please, someone has read "The Ones Who Walk Away" by Ursula K Le Guin? Strong resonances between Omelas and the ProCogs.

Also, shroom, when I saw you open up with "THE IMAGE," I was hoping that you were going to pull together the water and glass imagery with the precognition and the constant every-surface-as-advertisement into a seamless whole, something I'd like to see done, but am unable to do myself.

And shroom responds:

Water and glass are opaque, they refract, diffuse, obscure, and reflect images. Are any other types of images any different? Is there an objective vision, as proposed by several of the film's characters? The other images in the film are hopelessly subjective: the psychic visions of genetic mutants, harnessed to construct, a coherent, legalistic vision, even when they give conflicting information; personal images, ripped from their contexts in reality, to be used as one sees fit; the VR fantasies; the bill-boards, specially personalized for better "contact" with the viewer.

Allyn says:

I'm not sure why joker finds it so hard to believe that Anderton and wife split in the first place. Few marriages survive the loss of a child, especially an only child. Perceiving one's spouse as a constant reminder of the loss doesn't seem so far-fetched to me. And I didn't find the reconciliation or pregnancy implausible. However, it would have been refreshing if Spielberg had resisted the urge to wrap everything up so neatly at the end.

Shroom: "Technology can effortless track our persons, our wants, our needs via retinal scan, retinal scans attached to massive, integrated databases that contain our complete history. Anybody could potentially access every bit of history of your life, and nobody raises a finger...." The potential for loss of privacy is floated out but never fully explored. For example, during the first sequence, they don't access some huge database of personal information to track down Howard Marks. Instead, they check his driver's license (hardly a 21st century crime-solving technique), and when that doesn't pan out, they look to architectural clues in the precog's vision. Compare that to The Bourne Identify, where notwithstanding the fact that Maria is a gypsy, someone who presumably lives beneath the radar, the bad guys are able to access lots of personal information about her and predict where she will go.

Also, the implications of "minority reports" are never fully considered. I liked the fact that there was no minority report of Anderton's murder. It was a nice plot twist. But, in fact, Agatha's vision of Irvey's death also turns out not to be a true minority report. For it to be such, her vision and Arthur's and Dashiell's would have had to occurred at the same time but still have been inconsistent. However, the whole solution to the crime depended on the fact that the visions occurred at differenct points in time. Spielberg dangles these significant philosophical questions but doesn't really use the story to explore them.

To which shroom replies:

I'll have to admit that the narrative fudges a lot of logic in respect to the technological tracking abilities, depending on the necessities of the plot (i.e. what you describe and the security clearance issue, though I think that the narrative itself tries to find some sort of justification of why they can't find Marks right away; and then there is the trade off from an exciting suspense/SFX sequence versus a more prosaic, yet consistent opening).

Admittedly, the dangling Minority Reports that are supposed to be the keys to both the Leo Crow murder and the murder of Agatha's mother, are more or less red herrings, in terms of plot, but they do serve several functions. They undermine Anderton's faith in the objectivity and truth of the whole Pre-Crime enterprise, and point to how a system can be abused and manipulated.

Phyrephox says:

I read someone's theory that they never canceled Anderton's security clearences because guess who is in charge of the department? Max Von Sydow. And guess who wants Anderton and Agatha to eventually end up in that hotel room? Max Von Sydow. He easily could have keep the clearences alive. No evidence in the film of this of course but I think it could fit...

To wich allyn replies:

For that to be the case, you have to assume that Von Sydow is the only one that could have revoked Anderton's authorization. For something like that, there should be evidence in the film. Plus, by that point in time, the Department of Justice had explicitly assumed jurisdiction, suggesting that Witwer could have cancelled his authorization. That theory also doesn't explain why his authorization wasn't revoked after he was arrested. The existence of plot holes was only my third complaint about the film, yet it seems to be garnering the most response. I had more of a problem with too much cutesy stuff in the film. Shannon on the NYT forum gave the examples of jet flaming the burgers (the most egregious example) and the rancid food, which also bugged me. But my biggest problem with the movie is the superficial treatment of its philosophical themes and the lack of integration between those themes and the story. This seems to me to be a repeating phenomenon. A movie touches upon an idea that resonates with a particular viewer and the viewer extrapolates based upon his or her own thoughts about the idea and then attributes those extrapolations to the movie, when they're just not there (not to name names, but, for example mcbain with A.I., shroom with Minority Report, wardpet with The Matrix, joker with any movie that seems remotely existential). It's an easy thing, however, to set up a determinism v. free will conflict. It's an easy thing to suggest that the progressive loss of privacy in a world of easy communication, electronic transactions, and interconnectiveness will continue in the future. Exploring such ideas in any depth is harder and structuring a story that truly integrates such ideas even harder. I do not think Spielberg is a great director. I think he is a good director that frequently has hovered just beneath greatness and, as a result, watching one of his movies is often a little frustrating for me.

Phyrephox answers:

I thought A.I. addressed the issues it brought up very well, but I never expected as much from Minority Report, I mean it's clear that it is more a thriller than a think piece, just a thriller with an interesting premise. The problem here is that Spielberg hints that the movie might go deeper but it never does. The question then is can one accuse it for having a premise that it never expands on or can you just say it has a cool premise for a thriller and it would have been nice to see it expanded....

However, shannon says:

Made perfect sense to me, Phyrephox. I say it's fair to accuse it of having a premise that it never expands on since it obviously tries to expand on it. He just didn't do a very good job of it. Spielberg wanted the flick to be more than an action/adventure tale, but he didn't succeed.

Phyrephox: I'm not trying to argue, but what would you say makes it obvious that Spielberg is trying for more instead of just elaborating a concept to keep the plot moving?

Joker:

Furthermore, I wanted to counter allyn's suggestion that we're all reading too much into films. It's presumptuous of me to say that because I write and direct, I know what writers and directors are doing, but I have a pretty good hunch that the artistic community -- especially the best of it -- likes to downplay and understate, and their goal is EXACTLY to get viewers like us to draw philosophical conclusions from cinema. I know with "Knock It Down" I didn't overstate or get didactic about my existential views, because i hate heavy-handed preachiness, but it's there enough to think from. Same in "The Long Walk." I find it hard to believe a writer would spend six months to a year of his life, and a director spend a year shooting and in post, putting together such an expensive and time consuming work of art, and not mean for these subjects to be extrapolated from the material.

The Way of the Gun is one good example -- allyn, every hi-falutin comment you made about I think is accurate; it's there, posed in the film, just not explicit and not easy to draw out unless you pay attention and see it a few times. Besides, there's also the whole intentional fallacy. Just because an artist might not have intended an existential theme or what have you, you have to look at the art itself, and draw evaluations of it regardless of the artist's intent.

Allyn: Joker, The Way of the Gun is an excellent example of what I'm talking about. I think it is possible to make a movie that addresses serious and complex issues in a thoughtful way without being heavy-handed or didactic. The Way of the Gun also illustrates what I mean by integration, because everything in the movie -- the story, the visuals, the music -- worked together to serve the overriding themes of the movie. Minority Report, on other hand, struck me as much less successful in that respect.

Shannon and phyrephox, I think it would have been fine if Spielberg wanted to make mostly a thriller but I agree with shannon that he was trying to make an "important" movie. Also, if we're going to consider Minority Report as a mere action thriller comparable to Panic Room or The Bourne Identity, then the holes in the plot become much more significant.

And finally, I say that the films into which I read things often hold as much weight as The Way of the Gun. I agree with you that Minority Report fails, as I’ve said before, but that doesn’t mean the other films we discuss do. You seem to be blanketing shroom, mcbain, wardpet, whomever, as wrong for drawing things out of films that you didn’t find yourself. If you don’t see in Run Lola Run what I see in it, philosophically, that doesn’t mean I’m reading smarts into a stupid film -- maybe it means you missed it the first time?