Raise your hand if you have ever wished you could see the future. If you did not put your appendage up, then why are you being a spoil sport? You are also lying. We have all wanted to know what will happen before it occurs in some form, be they big happenings or little day-to-day decisions into which we put far too much stock. No matter how hard we try, though, there is certain knowledge to which we will never be privy. However, Minority Report (2002) offers us a world where only a select few people have what is referred to as “precognition,” and their ability is confined to predicting murder. It then explores the resulting philosophical and moral dilemmas such a capacity for prophecy presents in a mostly interesting, fast-paced science fiction thriller.
Minority Report explains right off the bat how the three clairvoyants, referred to as “precogs,” work. From their “temple” in the Department of Pre-Crime (what a name), they see a murder of passion that is about to occur somewhere in Washington, D.C. When the alert goes out, the bureau chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is called into the room where the victims, their names scrawled on wooden balls, are given to him along with the precogs’ vision of the about-to-be committed crime. From the vagaries of man-made images, Anderton must piece together where this is going to take place. The clock is ticking, though, and unless he can figure it out in less than an hour the system’s flawless, years-long streak of preventing murders will come to an end. In the midst of his investigations, he receives a visit from a member of the United States Department of Justice, Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), who is there to get a sense of the operation. Its creator and Anderton’s boss, Director Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow) plans to take the Pre-Crime program to the national level, hence Ditwer’s presence. Ditwer also calls into question the morality of what they are doing because they are arresting people before they commit the perceived act. Anderton, regardless, remains dedicated to the program. After he is able to prevent another murder, we learn why he feels as he does. He obtains an illegal substance known as “clarity,” goes home, and watches a recording of his son. Later it is revealed that someone had taken his son, and that he joined the Pre-Crime division so that nobody else will ever have to experience his pain. The next day starts off as usual until the alarm goes off again and it turns out to be a murder that he is to perpetrate. In turn, he does what all such suspects do when his officers show up: he runs. Because he has experience with these situations, he is able to evade capture. He believes he is being set up by Ditwer, who wants Anderton’s job. Seeking answers, he visits the other inventor of the precognition program, Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith), in order to figure out how someone could fake a vision. In the process, he learns that while their prophecies are always correct, they do sometimes disagree. Whatever conflicts with the prevailing version of future events is what is known as a “minority report,” and they are routinely disregarded. For Anderton, this opens up the possibility that something could be amiss with what the precogs have foretold. In order to prove this, he breaks into the Pre-Crime headquarters and steals the most powerful of their trio, the sole woman known as Agatha (Samantha Morton). In previous interactions, she shares with him a mysterious vision that he initially dismisses, especially now in his desire to prove his innocence. Unfortunately, their travels land them in the very room where they had seen him shoot a heretofore unknown person named Leo Crow (Mike Binder). On a nearby bed are a bunch of pictures, which include photos of Anderton’s son. In the midst of his rage, Agatha reminds Anderton that he has the choice of not killing Crow. However, when he does not pull the trigger, Crow tells Anderton that unless he goes through with it, Crow’s family will not get paid. Thus, there is a set up after all, which is made more evident when Crow grabs Anderton’s gun and shoots himself. Anderton and Agatha escape, but when Ditwer arrives on the scene the evidence seems to him to point to a set-up as well. Enter Burgess, who is not keen to see his program end when it is on the verge of going national. With one of the precogs in Anderton’s hands, there is no way of predicting any murder. Burgess then kills Ditwer and pins it on Anderton. Feeling like he has nowhere else to run, Anderton brings Agatha to his ex-wife’s, Lara (Kathryn Morris), house. Lara, thinking nothing is amiss with Burgess, tells her ex-husband’s boss of Anderton’s whereabouts. Unfortunately for Burgess, when Agatha is put back into the Temple, she immediately sees Burgess shooting Anderton. At the same time, Burgess is at an award ceremony for his hard work. Anderton confronts Burgess, showing the gathered crowd the strange vision Agatha shared with him before, and it is of the older man killing her mother. The aging Pre-Crime director next shoots himself, committing suicide. This effectively ends the program, and the movie.
You can get lost in several philosophical twists and turns while watching Minority Report. The most obvious one, and the one central to the film, is if you knew someone was about to carry out a murder, are you then justified in pre-emptively arresting that person and summarily locking them up? Whenever the Department of Pre-Crime gets a report of an expected act, they have on hand a judge and a psychiatrist who review the footage with Anderton in order to verify that the purported act-to-be is genuine. They then sign-off on an arrest warrant. Once the future perpetrator is caught, they put a device on their head that seems to put them in some kind of suspended animation. They are then stashed in a tube-like containment stack to basically vegetate from here to eternity, apparently. Does any of this sound fair? As mentioned earlier, when Anderton is about to kill Crow, Agatha pleads with him that he has a choice in the matter. Now, there is a caveat to all this speculation. In the world of the movie, which is confined to the Washington, D.C. area, the work of Anderton and his fellow officers has all but eliminated murder as a crime. This is particularly so for the pre-meditated variety, which the precogs can predict far too distant into the future seemingly for anyone to bother planning it anymore. As our film begins, mostly what Anderton is stopping are crimes of passion, but because they happen so suddenly, they have a shorter time frame in which to be stopped. This provides for some pulse racing moments for Anderton and his men. Still, is there a crime being done if you stop it before it happens? It is a conundrum that bothers Ditwer, and Anderton explains away by throwing a ball at Ditwer. When Ditwer catches it, Anderton asks why he bothered to do so. Ditwer simply says he did not want it to fall on the floor, to which Anderton replies by asking how the other man knows absolutely that is what the ball would have done. Everyone knows what will happen to the ball if left unimpeded, and supposedly the precogs are never wrong. However, if you tell a person that they are about to a terrible crime, even if they do not know they are about to do it, would they still go through with it? I hope the answer is no.
Having the ability to predict the future like in Minority Report is an ability I am glad God did not give to us. As do so many things in our existence, here again is an example of His infinite wisdom. In the Bible, those who have precognition often find it to be a burden. The Book of Jonah is a perfect example. God reveals to the prophet that the city of Nineveh is about to be wiped from the Earth because of its wickedness. When this is revealed to Jonah, he goes to the people of Nineveh and warns them of their impeding doom. There is a certain analog here between the film and the knowledge of this destruction. Anderton does not give the people he arrests the chance to repent of their ways, as did God through Jonah. Anderton and Jonah are similar in that they are zealous for their work, although Jonah seems disappointed when the foretold destruction of Nineveh does not take place due to the Ninevites’ repentance. At the same time, Anderton, despite being on the lam, continues to want to see the Department of Pre-Crime continue because he does not want other people to experience loss as he did. Jonah knew the Ninevites were wicked, just like Anderton knows that there are wicked people in the world. However, God gives us the ability to turn back from evil at every step. When we do, there is no need for punishment.
Minority Report is a solid film, and it holds up despite being nearly twenty years old. There are some flaws, though. As Anderton and Agatha attempt to evade the authorities, Agatha is apparently able to predict more the just murders, even though that is not how her abilities are first billed. Either way, the film offers an interesting moral dilemma worth pondering, particularly as technology continues to advance.