Spielberg: Minority Report part 2

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John Anderton has found himself implicated by the same perfect system he helped create. In spite of the fact that he’s staked his life and reputation on the infallibility of Precrime, he does not give himself up quietly. The rules of Precrime insist that he is most certainly "guilty" of the crime he’s accused of, but the rules of human behavior insist that he respond to the accusation the same way everyone does — by resisting. Anderton believes everyone who is accused by the precogs is guilty, but everyone who is accused by the precogs believes they are innocent. So Anderton, star pupil and "good son" of the Precrime unit, must now do the only thing he can — run from the law. What he has forgotten in his ruminations on destiny and fate is one of the oldest rules of all, which is that power corrupts and any system of control will ultimately be manipulated by its creators to serve the needs of the powerful.

He first tries to make to his "father" Burgess’s house, but the system tracks him too quickly and his car is re-directed. We start the act the way we started the Prologue, with ten solid minutes of insane futuristic action beats. Anderton must negotiate the mag-lev highway on foot, then fight his own squad members in a terrific vertical fight sequence, then fight his nemesis Witwer in the middle of an automated automobile factory.

This is all pretty awesome. The fist-fight in the auto factory also has the advantage of both an ingenious set-up and a metaphorical resonance. Anderton is literally trapped and endangered by technology, the amoral motions of robots in a factory without apparent human supervision, and he not only survives the process of being boxed into a machine but also ends up using the technology to make his esape from his captors. His pursuers think the technology has trapped him and are chagrined to find that it has set him free. (I find it slightly suspect that a fugitive could drive a sparkling new car off the factory floor without having to pass by a single human employee, or even through an automated security checkpoint, but the payoff of seeing Anderton cruise (sorry) off in his new car, like the winner of a game show, as Witwer and his Justice-Department goons watch helpless, is almost worth it.

Unable to get to his surrogate father, Anderton instead travels to see his surrogate mother, Iris Hineman. If Burgess is the "hardware developer" of Precrime, Hineman developed its software, the trio of precogs who make the whole system work. Act II of Minority Report revolves around Anderton learning to, literally, see the world through new eyes and that process begins here — Hineman’s aggressive plant hybrids inject Anderton with an enzyme that, in Hineman’s words, will "make him see things."

Hineman, like many of the peripheral characters who pass through the narrative of Minority Report, has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. Hineman, the prison-guard technician Gideon, the eye surgeon Dr. Eddie, the cyber-parlor owner who shows up in Act III, all of them function primarily to give Anderton information. They are the most dreaded of sci-fi characters, walking expository billboards. Spielberg tries to distract us from their narrative functions by making their scenes as "entertaining" as possible, stuffing them with zany humor and slightly over-the-top performances that give the impression that a lot of people walking around in the future are a little bit crazy. It helps deliver the exposition, but it undercuts the seriousness of the narrative’s issues and represents another bold choice for Spielberg — you’d have to go back to 1941 to find performances this winking.

After Hineman explains everything Anderton needs to know, she kisses him on the lips. This is startling enough in context, but it reinforces her "mother" status — earlier in the movie, Anderton’s son Sean, in the video clip Anderton watches, says "only Mom kisses me on the lips." John is now Sean, and just as John lost Sean, John’s "parents" are about to lose him.

On the advice of Dr. Hineman, Anderton makes it to Dr. Eddie’s apartment and is fitted with new eyes. Spielberg inserts an explicit Clockwork Orange reference, drawing on the earlier movie’s themes of predetermined behavior. Alex in Clockwork, like Anderton, is trapped in a system that has determined that he is bad, incurably so, and that this moral quality can be measured — and changed — through technological means. By assuming that Alex has no free will, society acts to make sure that it is so. Whichis why I suspect Anderton’s boss is named Burgess.

Meanwhile, Witwer goes to see Anderton’s wife. Arrogant and nosy, his eyes make her uncomfortable — they are the eyes of Justice, after all — and she turns one of her photographs to the wall to keep him from seeing it. (A nice inversion, given that Justice is, as we all know, thought of as being blind — a connection the poster makes explicit.

Anderton wakes up with his new eyes, and finds himself on Cops, which is, apparently, still on the air in the future, with the same theme song. The cops are, somehow, hot on his trail and send robot spiders into Dr. Eddie’s run-down apartment building to look for him. One of the nicest touches of futurist speculation in the movie, for me, is how the residents of the building take the imposition of robot spiders invading their apartments and scanning their eyes as nothing but a slight pause in their evening — apparently this is a common occurrance in their neighborhood.

(I’d also like to note that, while Minority Report suggests a terrifyining police-state future, Spielberg is careful to report that the police, themselves, are perfectly decent people who are obsessed with following the rules and respecting the rights of anyone they’re not actually hunting at the moment. They don’t go around kicking down doors and intimidating the locals — they may be brutal, but they’re not on a power trip.)

The spiders (which look like larval versions of the tripods in Spielberg’s later War of the Worlds) catch up to Anderton despite his best efforts to avoid them, which spurs the narrative toward Act III, where Anderton will return to the Precrime unit, this time as a fugitive, to steal one of the precogs, to clear his name. This action will, of course, doom him, and, what’s more, will serve the needs of the powerful people who need him to behave thus. Like Alex in Clockwork Orange, Anderton never had a choice in his behavior.


22 Responses to “Spielberg: Minority Report part 2”
  1. memento_mori says:

    Iris… get it? 🙂

  2. I also dug the small touch of the shitty tenement building full of people who’ve gotten used to that sort of police interference. The spiders themselves though are one of the sillier futurist musings for me.

    In response to what swan said to me on part 1, about seeing what movies get “right” about the future, well, this is it right here: technology will develop in directions that meet needs or wants. Do police need clumsy, clunky rocket packs to pursue fugitives? No, not really, even barring the daunting physics hurdle you’d need to clear in the first place. (Same goes for, say, the military needing “mech suits”: no, not at all Matrix trilogy, not if they’re going to be that clunky and slow-moving. Starship Troopers [the novel] is very possibly the only fiction to make sense out of that idea.) Do police need robot spiders that can infiltrate buildings to check the bodies present or not present? Maybe, but it makes far more sense to cut out the middleman (or middlespiders) and have smart buildings that keep track of that and have the info readily available for police. There’s a legit need there, just not sensible tech to address it. Which is why it’s silly to me.

    I spend too much time thinking about that sort of thing. I can’t even tell if Minority Report’s a good movie or just a movie that scratches that particular itch for me, since I love thinking about this crap.

    • swan_tower says:

      Smart buildings would require investing for that kind of infrastructure, though, in housing that is otherwise low-rent..

      Which is not to say I think the spiders will happen; I don’t. But I can see using a portable setup rather than a built-in one.

    • notthebuddha says:

      You need something inherently able to poke into nooks and crannies, crawl under and around doors – why then artificially limit such a mobile device to a single building?

      • I get the need for a robot to get into tight places and such – or more importantly dangerous situations (and we’re already using robots to deal with bombs and hairy battlefield situations). Just doesn’t quite make sense for me the way it was used in the movie. Those spiders would be useful for certain things, but we’re shown them being put to use in a manner I don’t ever see happening. That scene’s more about dramatic tension than it is about concrete futurism.

        (Since we’re talking pure speculative future tech, the simplest idea would be the police just looking up and down at the building, watching a virtual read-out automatically pop up in their vision identifying every warm signature and all the pertinent info they’d want. But I’d still say before that’s ever fully developed, smart buildings keeping tabs on warm bodies present will be around first. And either way makes for a wayyy less interesting scene.)

        …I’m also dangerously close to going off on my RFID-scanners-make-more-sense rant about the movie’s dependence on eye scanners.

        • ndgmtlcd says:

          Have you ever heard of something caled UWB (Ultra Wide Band) scanning? Or about seismic analysis algorithms?

          And then, there’s the question of ID. Have you heard about the fact that human beings have distinct (just as distinct as retina patterns) blood vessel patterns all over their bodies, on their hands as well as their faces, just a tiny way under the top layer of their skin?

          To get to the point, any SF movie which goes into specifics of the near future (50 years from now say) and ties up its plot points around those specifics will always feel dated a few years later, to anyone who reads things like IEEE Spectrum and Scientific American.

  3. swan_tower says:

    Well, at least one of the cops is on a power trip. “If you don’t want your kids to know fear, keep them away from me!” Delivered in an over-the-top growl, no less. I don’t know the character’s name, but he seems to like flexing his cop-ness.

    I don’t personally find that the slight zaniness detracts from the serious issues; rather, I’d say that without it, the movie would feel too obsessed with its own Importance. But I tend to feel that drama hits me harder when leavened with comedy — part of the reason Joss Whedon works so well for me, and also (at least the first season of) the new Doctor Who.

    I don’t know how much I view Hineman as a mother figure; she only seems to fit the role in that she’s Burgess’ female counterpart, and Burgess is very definitely father-like. But since she and Anderton have never met, it’s hard to see her in that role wrt him.

    • notthebuddha says:

      It makes her a distant, absent mother – and she’s really much more the mother figure for the poor precogs.

    • Todd says:

      She actually refers to herself as “the mother of Precrime,” so she sees herself that way even if no one else does.

      As for her never meeting Anderton, that creates a nice inversion of the typical Spielberg household, which generally has an absent father.

      • swan_tower says:

        I’m with — I can see her as the mother figure to the precogs, and thus to the organization. But not in any personal way for Anderton. But I was also going to bring up the “absent mother” motif being an odd one.

        . . . almost makes me want to analyze this through a fairy-tale lens. I don’t think it would work, but fairy tales were all about absent mothers by the time the Grimms got through with them.

  4. swan_tower says:

    Incidentally, I think it’s worth noting that the film skates verrrry close to the line of violating its own stated rules by setting Anderton up in this fashion. The murder is premeditated — but not by the killer. For Anderton himself, it’s a red-ball scenario; Burgess is the one who plans the murder. Justifying the way that plays out precognitively would require some fancy dancing, of a sort I don’t expect a film to do; Spielberg doesn’t (and shouldn’t) get down into the nitty-gritty of how and why the precogs see things to the degree necessary for explaining the Crow situation. But it’s faintly problematic.

    (Mind you, nitpicking at Crow is kind of like complaining your tire pressure’s low when the engine is making unpleasant squealing noises. The engine, in this case, is Agatha, who mysteriously starts seeing all kinds of minor things once Anderton pulls her out of the “milk” and into normal society. Wasn’t there supposed to be a reason the precogs only see murders, and not other violent crimes? Shhhh, don’t ask such questions.)

    • crypticpress says:

      You touch upon the fundamental reason the film doesn’t quite work for me.

      When a movie establishes very specific “this is how this thing we created works in this world” rules, and then it violates those rules so that the narrative can work, my confidence in the film just crumbles. And yet, if they hadn’t established said rules, there would have been nothing to violate, and having vague rules they can stick to would have been (imo, anyway) more forgiving than precise rules they can’t obey.

      • swan_tower says:

        I’m willing to go with it because, if this were a novel, I can imagine how it would elaborate upon and complicate the original rules to fit the “violations” in coherently; however, it does push them awfully far, to the point where it almost (or depending on the beholder, actually) breaks its own rules. Which in turn breaks the cardinal rule of good science fiction. I’d be happier if it either set things up or played them out in a less almost-false fashion.

  5. ninebelow says:

    The spiders (which look like larval versions of the tripods in Spielberg’s later War of the Worlds)

    The whole scene is a sort of laval version of the basement scene in War Of The Worlds.

  6. serizawa3000 says:

    I thought the marked contrast between Anderton’s fight with his former teammates and the subsequent fight with Witwer and his Justice cronies was a quirky touch. In the first fight, Anderton displays a not insignificant amount of courtesy towards his former teammates, who can’t catch him despite their jetpacks and “sick-sticks.” He uses their equipment to his advantage, but at the same time he’s ensuring that no one is too badly banged up. Even that one officer he piggyback rides all over the place.
    On the other hand, with Witwer and his Fed-suited Justice cronies, it’s different. Anderton again uses someone else’s gadgetry to his advantage, at least until Witwer gets in there and it’s all fisticuffs and little to no concern about who gets hurt this time…

  7. perich says:

    I was equally impressed by the spectacle of the highway chase / jetpack dustup / car factory setpiece. More so because, while CGI was obviously used, its use was so minimal and elegant that it never distracted. Tom Cruise was always the star of the action.

    Really, there’s only one part that had to be CGI, and that’s the maglev highway chase. Everything else probably benefited from some animated touches, but it was clearly Cruise and a guy dragging each other along a wall in a jetpack.

    # # #

    And you omitted one of my favorite exchanges between Anderton and Witwer. “You gonna shoot me, John? I don’t hear a red ball.” And then the look on Witwer’s face as the alarms go off …

  8. ruinednet says:

    Nice catch on Burgess’ name. I’m a huge fan of A Clockwork Orange, and definitely noticed the big reference in the film, but failed to note the name.

  9. rjwhite says:

    Okay- question. When I saw that auto factory scene, the first thing that popped into my head was the sequence Hitchcock said he’d wanted to do in North By Northwest. I think he talks about it in that Truffaut interview book.

    Something about Cary Grant going to Detroit, questioning some guy in a factory, walking along the assembly line, a car being put together behind them, then, at the end, the trunk of a finished car opens and inside is the person Grant was asking about.

    I don’t know- maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it just clicked, for some reason, like Spielberg got to do his version of it.

    • Todd says:

      I had forgotten about that Hitchcock quote. Spielberg is obviously both a fan of Truffaut and Hitchcock, so it’s inconceivable that he would not know about that interview. And the sequence is a perfect illustration of Spielberg’s “stand it on its head” philosophy.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Watching Lois Smith, who I had never heard of before Minority Report, and have never seen anything of since, absolutely blast Cruise off the screen actingwise, made that scene with Iris Hineman my single favorite part of the movie. I think if you’ve got to have long stretches of sci-fi exposition, you could do worse than having them delivered by the likes of Smith, Peter Stormare, or Tim Blake Nelson.

    I remember thinking that the car factory fight was the first time Spielberg had allowed himself to actually have fun with a movie since Schindler’s List. To me, Minority Report is his awkward but welcome lurch toward some middle ground between the narratively playful movies he made early in his career and the serious films epitomized by Schindler.

    — N.A.

    • Todd says:

      The 00’s are definitely Spielberg’s Decade of Curveballs — and we haven’t gotten to Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal yet.