Revisiting Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report
Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report begins with an all-seeing mind glimpsing into a murder that will be. A red ball then rolls down and lands perfectly, displaying the names of future victims and their soon-to-be killer. At the Department of PreCrime, Chief Detective John Anderton parses through a series of murky images to determine where this event will not come to fruition. While paradoxical, his career hinges on making the inevitable preventable. The “killer” is apprehended and as he’s being dragged away cries “I didn’t do anything”. The truth of it rings with a harrowing potency, as he will serve a sentence for a crime that was never committed. Was he going to go through with it? It will never be known, except the department never makes mistakes- or so they say.
Minority Report is, at its core, a noirish crime yarn that is slickly dressed up as a sci-fi blockbuster. It bridges the divide between the cerebral and the whimsical, as its philosophical themes are delivered through the lens of an action-adventure. It’s a riveting combination that continually compels, especially when it’s let loose within the framework of a “chase film”.
It follows Chief Detective of PreCrime, John Anderton (Tom Cruise), who becomes the center of a manhunt when the precogs he works with predict he will murder someone in the next 36 hours. If he’s caught, a mental exile awaits, as he will be put into a coma that will trap him in a false utopia. Anderton’s existential crisis is utterly captivating to witness, as he struggles to prove himself innocent of a crime that has yet to unfold. His journey is littered with philosophical revelations that challenge the integrity of the PreCrime institution, as he learns this system might not be as infallible as he and its director, Lamar Burgess (Max Von Sydow), proclaim it to be. Anderton’s quest for liberation is also underpinned by the guilt he feels for his son’s loss and the subsequent unraveling of his marriage.
Steven Spielberg and co-screenwriter Scott Frank turn in a meaty conversation about the dichotomy between free will and predeterminism while ruminating on the conflicts between state security, liberty, and privacy. It’s rare to see a blockbuster deal with the paranoia of its time so directly, as it was released during the height of the Patriot Act and its subsequent implementation. The landmark act gave free rein to the government to conduct searches solely based on probable clause, a direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think the act would justify PreCrime’s prognostications, as the allure of a crime-free world would undeniably trump the need for total liberty.
For a film that is all about peeking into the future to determine specific outcomes, it’s chilling to witness many of its predictions come true just 20 years later. Its vision of a retail world has all but become a reality, as the modern penchant for social media connectivity has allowed individual user data to be sold in huge swaths to various public and private entities.
In Minority Report, Anderton is enveloped by an endless collection of billboards that are geared towards him and any other residents that pass by them, much like how the usual Instagram scroll is littered with adverts about products one may have previously purchased. While the film’s technology is based on a biological implant, people today have similarly submitted part of themselves to the promise of interconnectivity. Only when Anderton circumvents this mentality is he able to uncover the truth regarding his precarious situation.
The film’s eerie accuracy also extends into the realm of pornography, as today’s industry is also defined by fantasy fulfillment, whether through virtual reality or “deepfakes”. Anderton is again able to take advantage of this technological shift, by forcing a VR proprietor to hack into one of the precog’s visions.
Spielberg brings his trademark style to the film, as it is replete with a sweeping score by John Williams, Graceful cinematography by Janusz Kamiński, and a fractured family at the center of it. Minority Report is very much in the tradition of his most memorable films, and it proves to be both a blessing and a curse.
The film contains some of the greatest sequences and shots of his filmography, such as the iconic two-shot featuring Anderton and Agatha, and the inventive “car factory” chase scene. Without his filmic vision, Minority Report wouldn’t achieve its vitality and breezy pace. Moreover, Kamiński’s use of fluid camera movements, Dutch angles, and intricate tracking shots lend an epic scope to the ideas and ultimate vision. The production is also laced with silver hues and overexposed lighting that utterly cement the film’s dreary vision of the future.
The “eye removal” scene is especially a classic Spielbergian concoction. Expertly shot, blocked, and scored in such a precise manner, so as new information is relayed the tension ramps up in a way that utterly absorbs and frightens. The scene is imbued with an eccentricity that is entirely captivating and memorable, echoing the thrills of Indiana Jones’ famous set pieces. While the film is grounded in great philosophical matter, it never forgets to relish the more oddball facets of Spielberg’s celebrated canon.
As much as Spielberg is crucial to the film’s staying power, his predilections can sometimes intrude on the film’s thematic exploration. This is epitomized in the ending, as Spielberg’s insistence on a neat bow undermines the story’s philosophical edge.
After it is revealed that Burgess framed Anderton, he is stopped in a taut climax that meaningfully comments on the film’s central issues. Yet, Spielberg chooses to tack on an ending that depicts Anderton getting back with his ex-wife, who is expecting another child. For a film offering a bold and inventive sci-fi vision, it uncharacteristically stumbles into cliché in its final minutes, abandoning its more cerebral leanings.
While Minority Report concludes on a derivative note, it is unequivocally a vision come to life. From its impeccable direction and cinematography to its uncanny portrayal of future technological norms, Spielberg has crafted a truly enduring piece of cinema, whose resonance is only strengthened by time. Art is often said to imitate life, but Minority Report has superseded this notion by predicting it.
- Prabhjot Bains