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Steven Isaac

Movie Review

In a perfect world, murderers would be caught before they could kill, and the innocent would never live in fear. But even when the coupling of science and humanity produces the tools to prevent crime before it occurs, people still manage to mess things up. It’s 2054. Detective John Anderton is a pre-crime officer in Washington, D.C. He flies around with his jetpack, taking down bad guys before they can do bad things. And then John is identified as a future killer. In an instant, the full weight of the system he’s fought so valiantly for and served so faithfully comes crashing down on top of him.

It’s not a computer or an alien life-force that predicts future killers. It’s three highly-sensitive precognitive people. Since murder so forcefully “disrupts the fabric of life,” that’s what they see the most clearly. Murder after murder after murder after murder. Their visions are recorded as fragmented video images for the police officers to scrutinize. The names of the victims and perpetrators are burned into wooden balls—which roll down a maze of Plexiglas pipe before plopping down in front of waiting enforcers (think of the system as a giant, Steven Spielberg-inspired Mousetrap game).

When John finds himself on the lam, desperately trying to prove his innocence of a crime he’s yet to commit, his turbulent past reaches out to possess him. He and his wife lost their 6-year-old boy to an act of murder just before the “pre-cogs” effectively did away with capital crime. He’s never recovered, and has devoted his life to sparing others the agony he’s endured. That’s a good thing, but his obsession led to divorce and drug addiction. He knows he’s not going to kill the man he’s “supposed to,” but how is he going to convince anyone else? There’s no such thing as a conspiracy in a system that never fails.

positive elements: Minority Report provides numerous opportunities to think about and discuss the idea of judging someone for what they might do instead of what they’ve done. Prosecuting potential criminals seems to have great appeal at first blush, but as Minority Report shows, there’s more to justice than “keeping everyone safe.” Only God knows a man’s heart, and while Spielberg never evokes God’s overarching presence, his portrayal of humanity’s bumbling grasp on secret intent and future events speaks directly to this spiritual issue. The other area that gets specific attention is that of free will. A theme throughout is that John has choices. Just because a pre-cog predicted his actions, doesn’t mean he has to go through with it. There is always a way out. (Look at 1 Cor. 10:13 for a biblical parallel.)

spiritual content: While spiritual lessons can be drawn from the film, its only overt spiritual content is negative. Predicting the future is essentially a spiritual ability. But Minority Report attributes precognitive abilities to nothing other than chance, chemical combinations and hyper-sensitivity. A man finding himself in the presence of one of the pre-cogs, falls to his knees in front of her, crosses himself and blasphemously utters the name of Jesus. Detectives refer to themselves as “more like priests than cops” since they directly change the course of destiny in people’s lives.

sexual content: Opening scenes intertwine snippets of passionate kissing and a brutal stabbing. (It turns out that a man discovers his wife bedding someone else.) A holographic recording of John’s ex-wife shows her wearing a nightie and enticing him to come to bed. While mechanical police drones (in the form of spiders) search an apartment building, the camera flits overhead, spying on people in their homes (one couple is having sex). Another hologram shows a man’s sexual fantasy (the images are brief and distorted, but the sexual connotations are clear). Suggestive dialogue includes slang for sexual acts and even references the desires a man has for his cousin.

violent content: Disturbing, disjointed images of future murders play across police video screens. Drownings. Stabbings. Shootings. Strangulations. There’s also a lot of violence while John runs from his former colleagues. Personal jetpacks allows for high-speed, airborne combat, raising the pursuit’s stakes. John slams one of the cops against a wall and puts a gun to his chin (later he breaks a mirror with another man’s head and points a gun at him, too). Stealing an officer’s “sick stick,” John immediately uses it, causing the victim to projectile vomit. Shockwave guns throw men across rooms, but futuristic methods of violence quickly give way to old-fashioned fisticuffs. At least two men are shot in the chest (blood spurts and oozes). There is also a suicide.

crude or profane language: One forceful f-word and a half-dozen s-words. The Lord’s name is abused more than a dozen times.

drug and alcohol content: John is addicted to a futuristic substance called “clarity.” He breathes in the drug using what looks like a modified asthma inhaler. While his doping is illegal and frowned on by officers who find out about it, John never comes clean and the issue is dropped without resolution. Also, there’s a futuristic ad shown for beer, and alcohol is consumed by various characters.

other negative elements: [Spoiler Warning] Since security systems in John’s world rely almost exclusively on retinal scans, eye transplants have become a black market gold mine. Running from his old unit, John undergoes a back-alley eyeball swap to hide his identity from public scanners. The portrayal of the surgery is relatively bloodless, but John takes his old eyes with him in a plastic baggie. In one scene, the bloody orbs get away from him and roll down a hallway. There’s also talk about a plastic surgeon setting fire to his patients while they were under anesthesia. A subplot deals with the abduction and murder of children. A derelict makes an obscene gesture at police. A man is shown using the bathroom.

conclusion: Minority Report is an old-fashioned murder mystery dressed up in futuristic clothes. Sometimes those clothes are cool and comfy; other times they feel a bit stiff and scratchy. Personal jetpacks, spider drones, shockwave guns and bizarre elevator-style autos are all a bit over the top even for 2054. And the computers! If my wrists hurt now from pounding away at this keyboard, they’ll be in eternal agony if Spielberg’s vision for the future comes true. Computer users have to transform themselves into orchestra conductors just to keep the clunky things running. And don’t get me started on those “invisible” flat plexi screens. To be sure, Minority Report‘s heart beats strongest when it focuses on the mystery, not the future.

A lot could be written about the sociopolitical ramifications of a justice system that pre-judges crime. And Spielberg quite expertly opens that can of worms. But don’t expect Minority Report to explore the moral ramifications of its subject matter as much as A.I. did. (It’s not nearly as melancholy, either.) This is much more a mystery than an exploration of the meaning of life. “It’s like a whodunit,” Spielberg says. “It’s a ‘who will do it.'” Spielberg even shot the film using a dim, grainy technique to evoke comparisons to the grand mysteries of yore. And it works. Based on a short story by the man who conceived Blade Runner (Philip K. Dick), the yarn spools out convincingly as John gradually learns why he has become a target. Hint: Politics and money are never bad guesses. The only big hole in the story’s fabric is that John uses his old eyeballs to get back into his office while he’s being pursued. Wouldn’t the security codes be changed the instant he’s fingered for the crime? Still, the story carries you along to a strong conclusion and the mystery is satisfactorily solved. Sadly, one cannot use the term “satisfactorily” in this context without weighing it down with a giant asterisk. And that asterisk denotes gore, violence, foul language and sexual content. Not easy things to get around even when there is a good story to be told.

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Steven Isaac