On the Verge of Criminal Intent: Reviewing Spielberg’s Minority Report
What if there comes a time in the future that the police can detect a crime even before it is committed? This is essentially the future scenario presented in Steven Spielberg’s celebrated movie Minority Report (2002). Based on Philip K. Dick’s story, Minority Report is an action-packed, futuristic suspense thriller starring Tom Cruise. In this elaborately realized fantasy, it has become possible for police to predict confidently that an individual is about to murder someone, and to arrest them in advance. The predictive capacity of the future law enforcement involves an elaborate psychic process using drug-induced mutant humans, but the central question of the film is one not about this technology but of the morality of the process. Do we have the right, for the greater good of society, to punish people for things they are about to do?
The milieu of the movie is set in the year 2054. Felperin (2002) noted that modern era has allowed the U.S. Justice Department to formulate a seamlessly perfect technique in preventing homicide in the Washington DC area. They are using human triplets (two men and a woman) born to have the power of predicting things before they happen. They are known as the Pre-cogs, where they are placed in a huge basin with water and drugs, where they are networked to a computer. This computer is being used by the agents in the Pre-Crime unit, as they can see murders before they take place and arrest the would-be perpetrators. Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) supervises the unit, reporting to its director Lamar Burgess. Agent Danny Witwer is sent in by the FBI, which plans to put the system to national level. Privately, the divorced Anderton takes drugs and watches holographic footages of his son Sean, who was abducted at a public swimming pool six years ago. One day, a pre-cog named Agatha reveals a vision of a woman named Anne Lively being murdered, an seeming error because it was an earlier solved crime. Later, the system names Anderton himself as the next perpetrator, predicting that he will kill a man named Leo Crow. Surprised about the prediction, Anderton tries to cover up the results of the prediction and goes on the run.
Anderton tried to wrack his brains out on how he would arrive to that scenario. This is why he seeks out geneticist Dr. Iris Hineman, one of Pre-Crime’s developers. The doctor tells him that occasionally one of the Pre-cogs, usually Agatha, will have a “minority report”, a different view of a crime from the other two. There might just be a possibility that the identified murderer may have an alternative and innocent future. If Anderton’s murder has a minority report he will only be able to recover it by abducting Agatha. Before he can do this, he has new eyes transplanted to evade retinal scanners around the city. When he successfully kidnapped Agatha, he establishes there was no minority report for his murder. They make their way to the block where the murder will take place. Leo Crow turns out to be a fall guy, framed to look like his son’s abductor. He wants to die to claim insurance forcing Anderton to kill him. It is later revealed that it was his boss that framed up Anderton. The woman killed turns out to be Agatha’s mother whose attempts to recover her daughter would have not made the Pre-Crime system possible. Anderton exposes Burgess, who then kills himself. This time the US government realized that their system is not that perfect at all, so the Pre-Crime system is dismantled. Anderton is reunited with his wife and the pre-cogs retire and lived normal lives as regular human beings.
The new technology exemplified in this movie is near-perfect but it has huge flaws because it uses human beings, who are drugged, just allow them to make predictions. It can be seen that the system is still not infallible from being manipulated, just like what Anderton’s boss did to cover up his crime in order to make this Pre-cog project possible. In this movie, Spielberg as a director presented a scary future where citizens are subjected to constant surveillance through retinal scans as individuals are arrested and imprisoned for crimes they have not yet committed but of which the police have foreknowledge (Creed 2003, p. 192).
As seen in the film’s denouement, in which a character has to decide whether to prove the predictive perfection of the system by killing another person, we can see that this system has flaws because it features the dilemma of choice and of free will. Can the rules of time be ignored in order to preserve the safety and lawfulness of the state? I am against the Pre-cog system because it cannot be fair to judge someone as a criminal just because they just had this criminal intent. A criminal should only be tagged as one when he or she has already done the crime, not before doing it. Definitely, this movie has allowed us to inhabit an ethical dilemma in which predictive technologies is used as an outrageous basis to mark anyone as a criminal even when the crime is still yet to be committed.
Creed, B. (2003). Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2003.
Felperin, L. (2002, Aug.). Minority Report. Sight & Sound 12(8): 44-45.