Spielberg: Minority Report part 3

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Now that John Anderton can see his world through new eyes, he returns to the scene of the crime, so to speak, to prove his innocence. He nabs Agatha, the precog whom he thinks can save him. (It’s complicated.)

There’s a terrific sequence where Anderton and Agatha get chased by the police through a mall.Agatha, sprung from her swimming pool, is terrified and alarmed and wants to know "Is this now?" As swan_tower pointed out yesterday, this sequence stretches the rules of Minority Report by allowing Agatha to sense all manner of future events (homeless guys bending over for change, balloon guys pausing in the middle of the mall, rainstorms) once she is out of her pool, whereas they had made it quite clear earlier that the precogs can only see future murders. Why the change? Well, it’s a Steven Spielberg movie. He isn’t going to be content to shoot a standard foot chase through a crowded urban setting, he’s going to want to "stand the idea on its head," to show that foot chase in a way we’ve never seen it before, and the cinematic possibilities offered by the situation of a chase scene where the protagonist’s companion can see the future are too good to pass up.

Suddenly, Anderton and Agatha find themselves right outside the building where Anderton is destined to kill a man in a few minutes. Anderton could not go into the building, and thus foil destiny, save a life and clear his name, but curiosity gets the best of him — "Who is this complete stranger, why would I want to kill him?" — and he goes in. He could, you know, get rid of his gun, and thus stop the future from happening, but that doesn’t occur to him. Instead, he uses his gun to intimidate the desk clerk and get up to the man’s room.

He gets to his Room of Destiny, and, if you’ve followed along this far, you know that he finds that the man in the room is, or appears to be anyway, the man who kidnapped and killed his son all those years ago. And so What the Protagonist Wants and What the Protagonist Needs come together in one crashing, vital moment — Anderton joined the Precrime unit and became a "good son" to Burgess in order to comfort himself regarding his son’s disappearance, and now, here it is, the one thing that would cause him to break his vow as a police officer, to destroy all the good he’s done as a Precrime detective, to commit murder. One would think that the very nature of his discovery of the killer (he discovered he would kill a man, then followed the evidence to find out who the man is, then found out it’s the man who killed his son) would lead an intelligent man to suspect that he was being set up, but the disappearance of Sean, we’ve seen, is such a huge emotional block to Anderton that there is nothing that can stop him from exacting his revenge.

And yet, when the moment arrives, Anderton doesn’t pull the trigger. Faced with the possibility of sweet vengeance, Anderton does something else — he begins to recite the man’s Miranda rights. Tom Cruise does a terrific job with this moment, and I am moved by it every time. What is happening in this crucial moment? Well, Anderton gives up his dream of vengeance, that’s clear enough. Even after he’s extracted a horrifying confession from his son’s killer, Anderton does not pull the trigger. In this moment, he no longer identifies himself as his son’s father — he identifies himself as a policeman, an officer of the law, a man of Justice. So, concealed within his recitation of the Miranda rights, we see a father letting go of his missing son, giving up the pain and desire for revenge that have defined his life. At the same time, the way Cruise recites the line calls to mind a prayer, like a rosary, and it makes me think that all the discussion of faith from earlier in the movie comes down to this moment — Justice, Anderton finds, is his faith, and Miranda — the rights of the accused — is his prayer, his sacred bond. (It’s worth noting that the "future murderers" that Anderton and his pals arrest earlier in the movie are not read their Miranda rights, but a different recitation of code — a law that says that they are guilty and can be imprisoned without trial. Since Anderton thinks the man is guilty of a past murder, a murder predating Precrime itself, he cannot arrest him using the Precrime statute. Murderers, in this society, have certain rights, but future murderers are up shit creek.)

Anyway, it turns out that the man in the room is a setup, a notion Anderton is incapable of believing. "But the pictures!" he blurts, referring to a strip of photos of Sean with the man. The man looks at Anderton like he’s a child and says "The pictures are fake." Well, of course they are, all the images in Minority Report are fake to one extent or another, that is the point of the whole movie, but Anderton is still, in this moment, too dependant upon believing in images to accept the man’s statement.

Disgusted, Anderton turns to go, which prompts the man to grab Anderton’s gun and use it on himself, thus fulfilling Agatha’s vision, and creating the spur to Act IV. Now that the mystery of Acts II and III is solved, Anderton will return to the mystery of Act I — and also see to repairing the damage done to his shattered family.


20 Responses to “Spielberg: Minority Report part 3”
  1. johnnycrulez says:

    The chase is the mall bugs me a lot. I understand why Spielberg did it, it is a pretty cool moment, but they were so clear about defining the rules of the precogs…

    • Todd says:

      Hold on to your seat — it’s about to get a whole lot worse when Agatha imagines a possible future for a long-dead boy.

      • stormwyvern says:

        Given the apparent nature of this film, I have to ask: who or what is it that tells us that the precogs are limited to seeing future murders? Is it at all possible that it’s another lie, designed to prevent a total crash of society where no one takes so much as one step without first consulting a precog to see if it’s the right thing to do?

        • Todd says:

          What tells us that the precogs can only see murders is the protagonist, talking to Witwer somewhere in Act I. Only murder — he says — is a crime shocking and primal enough to disrupt the whoseewhatsit of the time-stream and thus provoke a reaction in th precogs. Which makes sense — otherwise the precogs would be spewing nonsense all day about thousands of mundane future occurrences.

          • stormwyvern says:

            Perhaps that is what precogs would do left to their own devices and the whole set up and Precrime with the swimming pool and everything is part of the conditioning to get the precogs to focus on detecting future murders. It seems that once she’s removed from that environment, Agatha does start babbling about mundane future events, presumably based on whatever happens to be around her at the time. Maybe the whole line about how “murder is the only crime horrible and shocking enough to create a disruption in the flabbity-bloo” is just more Precrime self-justification, to make it seem like they’re just using the precogs for their intended purpose rather than shaping their abilities to better suit a specific goal.

            Either that or it’s a plothole the size of a skyscraper. Whatever works.

            • charlequin says:

              This was always my take. The events of the movie don’t follow this initial rule perfectly (except for that one exception)… they follow the initial rule up until a specific stimulus occurs (Agatha gets out of the tank) and then stop following them pretty consistently for the rest of the movie — which makes “our initial explanation was wrong” a fairly compelling argument, to me.

              (I guess I don’t consider this a huge problem with the movie because the word “only” in “the precogs can only see murders” never struck me as a particularly part of the setup.)

          • Anonymous says:

            But Agatha was different, and the greenhouse woman goes to pains to explain that. Her visions are more poignant. The brothers are only seeing the future ripples of murders, but Agatha can see more. So the things the PreCrime Unit sees are based on the composite sketch between the three rather than just Agatha’s. If they were basing their investigation off of just Agatha (who was sedate and therefore only responding to the heaviest stimulus of all: murder), then perhaps they would be sorting through tons of nonsense.

            • stormwyvern says:

              Incidentally, am I correct in understanding that the title refers to Agatha’s visions which are unique to her? Agatha being a minority of one in a group of three, Precrime refers to her differing visions of the future as her “minority report”?

              I guess part of what I’m wondering is by whose standards is murder the most shocking and horrible event possible? I can see it going one of two ways: either the precogs perceive it as being the most horrible and shock event imaginable and are therefore more reactive to it (which would come from them being taught that murder is horrible which works with my idea that the precogs are actually trained to look for murders) or God, the universe, Flying Spaghetti Monster, what have you believes that murder is the most horrible event possible. Maybe it’s just my personal beliefs influencing my thinking, but I just don’t buy the latter. Why is murder necessarily worse than a horrible accident or someone being horribly abused or an animal being killed? (I don’t know if there’s any discussion of whether precogs are also sensitive to killing on a large scale, like a bomb being dropped.) It sounds like the movie makes no sense at all unless you believe that Precrime’s theory that precogs can only predict murders is completely wrong for some reason. Maybe Precrime does honestly believe that this is the case, failing to realise that their handling of the precogs and telling them that murder is the worst thing possible is the actual reason that the precogs focus exclusively on murders.

              • swan_tower says:

                The “minority report” is the dissenting vision when the precogs disagree, and apparently dissent always comes from Agatha, yes. (I do love the way Hineman reveals it. She tells Anderton “the precogs are never wrong” and then, while wandering away, off-handedly adds, “though sometimes, they do disagree.”)

                The explanation for why murder’s the worst is pure handwavium, but the script presents it as part of the initial Suspension of Disbelief package, the stuff you’re expected to accept in order for the story to proceed. I agree, however, that postulating Precrime’s setup as a system of control is the easiest way to fit in the inconsistencies without breaking the rules outright. Maybe precogs see all kinds of things — Agatha especially — and the “Temple” is a way of tuning the radio to a specific bandwidth, one where they can be useful. You could even massage the handwavium (which was a Precrime guy — not Anderton, I don’t think — quoting Hineman) by saying it’s a description of why murder’s the easiest one to tune for.

                Having said that, I don’t think Spielberg necessarily thought through it in this fashion; I think Todd’s probably right about his reasoning. And it’s not good form to toss your rules out just for the sake of a fun spectacle.

        • sheherazahde says:

          The big thing that bothered me about this story is that there are only three precogs.
          It is not logical to base one’s justice system on three individuals who will eventually die.
          It would be different it there were lots of precogs and we were just seeing three of them. But the story is clear that there are only three precogs and not likely to be any more.

          • Todd says:

            Well, but the idea is that when Precrime “goes national” there would be a nationwide search for other precogs — I mean, sure, base your system of justice on the visions of some special-needs children, but for heaven’s sake, use more than three.

            • I don’t know if I’m remembering this correctly, but weren’t the three precogs products of some future drug being abused by their respective mothers while in the womb? Or did I make that up?

              Theoretically the government could just go on a expecting-mother-napping spree and shoot ’em all up and see what happens. Which would be awesome.

              • Todd says:

                They were indeed the children of drug addicts.

                • noskilz says:

                  If one wants to follow a nasty train of thought, if drug x has a tendency to produce such people, and one can work out how this happens, other than the basic monstrousness of such a scheme, it doesn’t sound like there’s an insurrmountable obstacle to making more precogs – it’s for a good cause, right?

    • perich says:

      Thinking about it now, that should bug me more than it does. As should the inherent contradictions in the precogs’ abilities, as should the product placement, etc. But it all works so cleverly in service of a unified plot and theme that I can’t make it bother me.

      • rjwhite says:

        Yeah, same here.

        • Todd says:

          That’s Spielberg for you — seducing your intellect with cleverness.

          • johnnycrulez says:

            Hitchcock did it pretty well, too. Remember that scene in Vertigo when Madeleine just disappears after being scene in the hotel? It makes sense when the story is possibly supernatural and then again when it it is possibly about James Stewart going crazy, but it doesn’t actually make any sense with what really happens in the movie at all.

  2. Anonymous says:


    It seems sensible to me that the Precogs mostly see murder because they’re conditioned to focus on that while in the swimming pool, presumably with a combination of drugs and indocrination.

    Once outside the isolated, focused environment, Agatha’s abilities extend to whatever would stimulate her otherwise. This would include mundane events that normal people think nothing of but would capture your interest if you’ve never seen/been allowed to see them or think about them.

    The different context is enough to explain the apparent discrepancy.