I want to begin my thoughts about Minority Report
by discussing THE IMAGE, even if that image comes more than half way through the movie. Of course, I am thinking about the seemingly already famous close-up of Tom Cruise’s John Anderton and Samantha Morton’s Agatha in complete profile (the camera is perpendicular to the plane created by their faces). She is cradled like a child in Anderton’s arms, looking to the left-hand side of the screen, over his left-shoulder, while he looks to his right. Relatively speaking, he is closest to us, but Spielberg and his DP Kaminski use the camera lens to distort the image, by flattening the perspective, removing the sense of volume and depth, so that Morton and Cruise’s faces seem to emerge from one another, all of which is captured in the desaturated blues, blacks and grays of the film’s color scheme, bathed in the cold, uninviting white light that seems to pervade the future Washington DC. It’s a moment that is both narratively straightforward, she is trying to dissuade him from following his “destiny,” and aesthetically pleasing. But it is also a moment of great visual poetry, but almost all of the audience would miss the mythological allusion, and not being aware of the allusion does nothing to cheapen the scene. Janus, the two-faced Roman god of doorways and good beginnings, with one face looking forward into the future, the other, backwards into the past. Ironically, in this instance, it is the psychic who looks backward into the past (or not so ironically, given Agatha’s ultimate knowledge), while the hunted man, haunted by his past, looks to the future, which he has the option to change.
Images, Images, Images...Welcome to the (un)comfortable, media saturated future, 2054 AD. It’s an insidiously, fascistic future, though it looks too much like our own for my comfort (and no, it’s not insidiously fascistic because apparently Cops
is the longest running TV show in history). It’s not fascistic because of the apparent disregard for any Constitutional protections (though that is symptomatic of the larger problem), but because the system that has been put into place, has completely deprived us of our capacity to choose. 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, everyone, inside the law, just obeys, and allows their retinas to be scanned (“In the Kingdom ot the Blind, only those without eyes can see.”), either by the corporate edifices that tailor-make their billboards just for you (or your buying habits), or by the state, who use thermal scans and retinal-scanning mechanical spiders to invade people’s homes, or who apparently can control your means of transportation. The Pre-Crime Division and their Pre-Cogs are just another, more advanced progression of the before mentioned technology. The system, prevents us from choosing, even in matters of life and death. It is a de facto determinism. The State acts under the assumption that their system is flawless and objective, the only potential for error is all too human, conveniently ignoring the fact that the Pre-Cogs (Agatha, Arthur, and Dashiell; I liked those allusions, and these people, these prisoners, are so dehumanized, they are not even given their own names) are themselves human (or more acutely, the State ignores evidence to the contrary, the Minority Reports, and the potential for abuse). People are assumed to be guilty, but they are not given the chance to act. The State intervenes before the choice can be made. Minority Report
eventually argues for the humanistic notion of choice, arguing that Anderton, and later Burgess, can make a choice because they no their future. But, in reality, even if one doesn’t know their future, they can choose (ultimately, Minority Report
does not answer this philosophical conundrum, instead, answering a question of a more limited scope)? The State, under the deterministic assumption, makes your choices for you, and fosters the ultimate tyranny; of course, the State never bothers to stop and think about the paradox that if they could intervene and change the course of the future, are the visions the Pre-Cogs are having the future, or only one possible future? Why don’t the Pre-Cogs see the intervention? Why are the pre-cogs haunted by the continuing visions of murders already committed?
“Can You See?”
In 2054, much like today, the world is media saturated (if you want to play the game of intertextuality, just compare this film to Cruise’s last film, Vanilla Sky
, especially the Times Square nightmare sequence, the hologram, the VR), only now, more so than before (the production design, the incredible vistas, are the equal of AI: Artificial Intelligence
). Specially tailored advertisements address you personally, specially crafted for your own viewing “pleasure,” based upon your retinal scans, your eyes, the windows to your soul. These advertisements are everywhere, orchestrated just for you, on cereal boxes, on billboards, on walls. You can visit a Virtual Reality playroom, and have any fantasy of your choice orchestrated just for you, sex, prestige, power, even the taboo of death, made just for you. Forget the family photo album, you can see 3-D, moving holograms of your loved ones, you can watch your life, over and over again like a movie, even mouthing, repeating the treasured dialogue, over and over again. Are the Pre-Cogs images, transferred and translated by a computer any different? Anderton, stands before his large, Digital monitor, orchestrating the images that come from the Pre-Cogs, arranging the flashes and images into a coherent, narrative, taking the bits and pieces, the vestiges of reality, and fashioning them into something tangible, something that corresponds to the real world. He stands before the console, always to classical musical, and gesticulates like a conductor. He moves musically, fluidly, quickly, always knowing what he wants to see. The maestro at work, he constructs a coherent crime scene to fit the “only” possible outcome, what ever the wood balls say.
This isn’t to say that the movie is fraught with pretensions. Spielberg himself orchestrates the images beautifully, weaving the philosophy into the narrative, integrating it into countless, effortless scenes of action, suspense, and frequently, comedy (the film is surprisingly funny). The first example of how the Pre-Crime Bureau works (the sequence is almost realtime), Cruise’s escape from his car, leaping from transport to transport; the chase between his former comrades, and then the FBI agents led by Colin Ferrell’s Justice Dept. Agent Ed Witwer (who interestingly enough, not only questions the whole infallibility of the Pre-Crime bureau, but who appears among the most deterministic, calling off the chase for Agatha since she already appears in Anderton’s murder; he kisses his talisman, is it like a rosary, that is hanging around his neck, constantly); the evasions of the spiders, which cribs a shot from De Palma’s unsung 1998 masterpiece, Snake Eyes
; the escape from the mall, with the interesting timing of the psychic, the balloons, and the Pre-Crime agents. The future is decidedly off-kilter, from Timothy Blake Nelson’s organ playing, 1950ish geeky “warden,” to Lois Smith’s intelligent, crazy, hat-wearing, genetically-enhanced plant loving (genetic engineering, another example of determinism) eccentric, who created the Pre-Cogs by accident as a supposed act of altruism, and now knows of their secret flaws. I loved how she planted a big wet one on Cruise, all the while acting like your slightly, weird, elderly matron; or Peter Stomare’s mucus suffering ex-plastic surgeon and his Dutch assistant, with what has to be the biggest mole I’ve ever seen. And then there is the out and out comic scenes, such as Cruise chasing after his own eyeballs, rolling down the corridor, the crashing chase through the tenements of the Sprawl, offering frequently funny vignettes, as this weird occurrence happens around their domesticity, the glimpses of people VR fantasies, even a bit of gross out humor as the temporarily blind Cruise mistakenly eats rancid food....And of course, their is the one, true blue Spielbergian moment, when Agatha, bathed in saintly white light, and captured in close-up, reveals the alternate future of a living Sean, but this scene is actually quite restrained, something that may not be evident from this description, and is more bittersweet than sentimental.
The ending of the film deserves some comment, it’s not schmaltzy or anything. The Anderton family is reconstituted, the past is now behind them, the Pre-Crime Bureau experiment ended in failure, and the Pre-Cogs have been set free (the prisoners have all been given unconditional pardons, but their surveillance by agents of the State continues). But they are forced by necessity to live apart from the rest of humanity, on quite literally, an island, to prevent the torment of man’s inhumanity to man. As innocents set apart, they are a neat summation of man’s condition.