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Is a crime committed before it’s committed if you stop it before it’s committed?
A paradoxical, circular question like that sends your brain into a tizzy, doesn’t it? But then, what human conundrum doesn’t? Is our destiny fixed, like the unmoving, rooted rock in the middle of a river? Or, is it like the flowing water that finds its way between those unmoving rocks? Are we condemned to act out our life based on an immutable script that has been handed down to us? Or, can we edit that preordained script and make changes as we course through life? Can we predict the future? If yes, will the prediction be accurate all the time? Do we believe that we have no say in what we’re going to do next? Or, if we believe we can shape our future, can it be called the future at all? Is every human life a series of self-fulfilling prophecies, or is there such a thing as free will? Is our life determined for us, or do we determine it? Is fate fluid or static?
As a matter of preference, I am not greatly fascinated by movies of either the action or the sci-fi genre. Most movies of the first kind are awash in a needless excess of testosterone and adrenaline, while many of the second drip with brain chemicals. Rarely are movies from either genre warm – most of them leave you intellectually and emotionally cold. So, when a movie like Minority Report (2002) – which is supposed to belong in the sci-fi genre and can also boast of some of the most breathtaking action scenes ever conceived for the screen – begins to ask a series of questions like those, my switch of fascination is flipped on. The movie gushes the adrenaline and boggles the brain, yet leaves you both intellectually satisfied and emotionally fulfilled with the questions it posits and the way it makes you care for its characters…
…The year is 2054 in Washington, DC. Technology has evolved to a stage where cops can see the future and so are able to stop crime before it happens. They do this with the help of three ‘Precognitives’ – ‘Precogs’ for short. These are individuals that are highly gifted with an ability to see accurate visions of what’s about to happen next, especially when it comes to homicides. Based on the Precogs’ predictions, the police of the futuristic world track down, stop, arrest, and incarcerate the would-be killers for their crimes – or ‘precrimes’, since they don’t actually end up committing them. And so, with ‘Precrime’, DC has now gone without a single homicide in the last six years. The success of the system is shared by its visionary director, Lamar Burgess, and its highly committed Chief of Precrime, John Anderton.
Minority Report’s first act starts with a fabulous opening sequence featuring a case that explains how the Precrime system works, its rules, and its grammar. A man is arrested for the double-homicide of his wife and her lover, just in time before he actually commits it. Everything works perfectly in sync – a crime is prevented, two lives are saved, and a potential killer is put away. But then, this is Washington; so can politics and bureaucracy be far behind? And unlike technology and progress, politics alongside progress is an oxymoron. So, in walks Danny Witwer, a Federal Government agent whose brief is to “evaluate” the system before the decision to expand it nationally is taken.
The entire movie is in the future tense. But the future is tense despite its crime-free world, when the ‘Precogs’, in the second act, predict that their chief Anderton will himself commit a murder in the next 36 hours. To confound it, Anderton has never known or heard of his victim before…Convinced that there’s a conspiracy against him and the system he’s so devoted to, the chief flees – determined to not let their prediction come true, and also determined to get the ‘minority report’ from one of the Precogs to prove his “innocence”. What he doesn’t realize is that his running away puts him directly, though unwittingly, on the path to the precise location and time of his destiny 36 hours later. The third act of the movie unravels the whodunit of a mystery that Anderton had started to pursue just before the system turned on him. With a shocker of a twist in its climax, this final act ties up the loose ends and puts events in perspective. What does Anderton uncover during his run? Is there truly a conspiracy, or is his character suspect? Is he made to play out the prophecy, or does he rewrite his fate? You’ll find it interesting to discover that, and also about what a ‘minority report’ is…
Based on a short story by well-known sci-fi writer Philip Dick and aided by a creatively enhanced script written for the screen by Scott Frank and Jon Cohen, Minority Report would’ve been a run-of-the-mill sci-fi movie with its usual share of flash-and-bang had it been handled by a lesser director. But under the stewardship of master auteur Steven Spielberg, it flashes and bangs but you hardly notice that because it’s busy making some louder points, albeit in a muted manner. Those who love their sci-fis will get their two hours’ worth, as will lovers of action flicks; but if you seek something more than that, you’ll get that in good measure too – the narrative poses puzzles that are as practical as they are philosophical.
What makes this movie a modern classic is that while Spielberg dazzles you with technology, and pumps high-octane into the action sequences, he never lets the focus drift away from the human element in the story. In fact, the mood, look, and feel that Spielberg gives to this movie strongly resembles the ‘film-noir’ genre, which was popular from the 1930s thru 60s. Left to me, I would slot Minority Report in that genre, except that the story is set five decades in the future rather than five in the past. Anderton, the protagonist in the story is no hoo-ha super cop, but a troubled man carrying phantoms from his past. The film consistently maintains this subdued, melancholic feel by suffusing it with shades of moody, murky, metallic blue. This sci-fi sees Spielberg in a different avatar from his earlier Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – less sentimental, more somber; less shimmy, more substance.
The world that Minority Report sneak-peeks in the not-too-distant future is not only fantastic but nearly believable, with a great degree of authenticity. In an interview, Spielberg says that he achieved that by getting some of the best brains in the country – from technology, computer science, biochemistry, etc. – to lay out their vision of the world 50 years from now. The carefully crafted details in each frame of the movie are evidence of the effort that’s gone into its making. Look out for an animated ad on a cereal-box that starts playing as soon as you pick it up. Or, the plain looking newspaper that quietly updates news in real-time even as you are holding it. Or, the digital billboards that begin to spew out targeted, personalized, product recommendations at you even as you walk past them in a mall…And yes, a word about Tom Cruise who plays John Anderton. For a superstar who gained huge popularity playing the action-hero in movies like Top Gun and the Mission Impossible franchise, Cruise is a remarkably versatile actor who can underplay himself when called on to do the dramatic stuff. He gets the meatiest role in the movie and carries it off gloriously…
There’s so much to say, but writing a column about a movie like Minority Report with a self-imposed 1300-word-limit is an impossible task…Current word-count: 1305. So, no more.
GO, WATCH IT !
PS: ‘Minority Report’ is available in the Naperville Public Library. And now, there’s no fee to check out DVDs from the library !