Spielberg: Minority Report part 4

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Despite his best efforts and a complete spiritual re-awakening, at the top of ACT IV of Minority Report John Anderton has fallen victim to the system he once prosecuted and is, once again, on the run from the Precrime police.

While he runs, Danny Witwer suddenly shifts in narrative function from antagonist to ally. As the Precrime cops investigate the murder scene, Witwer — being the character least likely to be seduced by images (justice being blind, after all) — sees that Anderton is, in fact, innocent. But if Witwer is not Anderton’s antagonist now, then who is?

Well, as it turns out, it is Anderton’s surrogate father, Burgess, who has set him up to take this fall. Yes, a government program has — shock — been manipulated to benefit those in control of it. Witwer is smart enough to put his case together to present it to Burgess, but is not quite smart enough to guess Burgess’s reaction to the news. Burgess has gamed the system too well — he knows that he can shoot Witwer with Anderton’s gun (which was left, I guess, at the murder scene) and not be implicated by the precogs, as they are now offline — due to his manipulation of the system. All this is quite clever, although it doesn’t end well for Witwer, who ends up shot in the face — perhaps even shot in the eyes, although Spielberg spares us that detail.

Anderton would appear to be well and truly fucked now, but he’s got more important things on his mind. His arc for Act IV is to repair his shattered family, and to do that he must reconcile with his wife, bury the memory of his missing son, and, if there’s time, prove his innocence and send his true antogonist to jail, which will end the Precrime initiative and destroy everything he’s stood for for the past decade or so.

As it turns out, there isn’t time. Anderton does make it to his old house, and he does reconcile with his wife, and he does, through Agatha’s magical imagining of Sean’s un-lived future, bury the memory of his missing son (Sean, in Agatha’s vision, is the very definition of the Perfect Son), but that’s as far as he gets before the Precrime cops show up and nab him.

(We also learn that Ann Lively was Agatha’s mother, and that her murder was provoked by her seeking out her daughter, which would endanger the Precrime program. Like I said, it’s complicated, but it’s thematically consistent that both Anderton and Agatha are goaded primarily by damage done to their families.)

It is, to say the least, unusual for a protagonist to be arrested, immobilized, and sunk into the ground in a glass tube in the middle of a climatic act, and completely unheard of in a Spielberg movie. Perhaps we could say that Minority Report, in fact, has five acts, the last two each being quite brief. But Anderton’s arrest and incarceration is a mere hiccup in the narrative, because his primary motivation for Act IV is "to repair his shattered family." "To prove his innocence" and "To catch his antagonist" are secondary. Because he’s already accomplished the task of repairing his shattered family, it is now possible for Anderton’s wife to act as an Anderton surrogate, and thus solve the mystery of who’s guilty for him.

As I noted earlier, a friend of mine once described Minority Report as "a brilliant science-fiction movie with an episode of Murder, She Wrote tacked on at the end." I think this is unfair to Minority Report (and, for that matter, to Murder, She Wrote) but I see why he thought that — the protagonist of Minority Report is absent for the crucial moment of the detective part of the story, his wife suddenly substituted in his role while he’s in a lit-up test-tube across town. And yet, since Anderton’s goal for Act V is "to repair his shattered family," the fact that his estranged wife suddenly takes up his narrative role feels justified. It is also another bold choice from Spielberg in a movie full of them.

In any case, Mrs. Anderton soon springs her husband from the hoosegow the old-fashioned way (by pointing a gun at the jailer), and the climactic showdown arrives. Tellingly, Anderton freaks Burgess out by phoning him and indicating that he can see him — there’s nothing that sets a guilty man into a panic more than knowing that some invisible authority figure is watching him, and it ties together the themes of the movie, justice and sight, seeing and believing. Anderton nails Burgess dead to rights, then asks "What are you going to do now?" A perfectly ordinary question to ask, except that it also deftly ties up the rest of the movie’s themes, those of fate and predetermination. We’ve all been through all kinds of bad experiences, the narrative says, the question is "What are we going to do now?" (Or, as Steve McQueen says another existentialist detective thriller, Bullitt, "Time starts now.")

His job destroyed, his name cleared, his "father"’s corruption and betrayal exposed, the man himself dead, his son’s memory buried, Anderton is last seen back with his wife, who is now pregnant. They look out the window of their house, presumably toward their unknowable future as a family. But the last scene goes to the precogs, who are now freed from their swimming pool to live anonymous lives in a quiet house near the water. Here they are seen all reading books, which at first made me think "Oh, that’s nice, they’re finding out about the past instead of the future for once in their lives, but then I realized that the argument Spielberg is making is that they are losing themselves in words instead of images. It may seem odd that a filmmaker would make a movie arguing against trusting images over words, but then one of his heroes, Francois Truffaut, did the same thing.


21 Responses to “Spielberg: Minority Report part 4”
  1. ndgmtlcd says:

    The precogs are reading books made of paper. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit odd in 2054? They’re out in the woods, very far from any “civilisation”, reading. Doesn’t that remind you of a particular film by Francois Truffaut?

  2. johnnycrulez says:

    What do you think of the idea that everything after Tom Cruise gets put into the freezing tube is a dream?

    I’ve heard a lot of support for it, and the last thing we hear before the screen goes black in that scene is that that frozen people dream of good things.

    • charlequin says:

      What does that make the movie about though?

      I mean: when Brazil does this, the film gives us increasingly dramatic clues throughout the ending sequence regarding what’s occurring, and the falsity of the ending is actually vital to the thematic content of the whole.

      I guess you could argue that the implication is there on purpose as part of the overarching “don’t trust what you see” theme, but I don’t really think the movie has a coherent narrative if it actually just ends with Anderton in cryosleep.

    • schwa242 says:

      Wait, was this before or after his car accident with Cameron Diaz?

  3. sheherazahde says:

    What is with the names?

    Every time I see “John Anderton” I want to call him “John Anderson”
    The same with “Bob Arctor” in “A Scanner Darkly” I want to call him “Bob Archer”
    What is up with Dick and the letter ‘t’?

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: What is with the names?

      That evil “T” reminds people of Christ’s agony on the cross.

  4. johnnycrulez says:

    Also, the Minority Report short story is awesome and way more complicated than the movie.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Some thoughts

    Hi, Todd;

    Longtime reader, first-time poster…

    Anyways, I was watching a movie (Apatow’s Superbad), and I felt compelled to sketch out some quick notes, inspired, of course, by your stylish, pithy, and incisive comments. If you’d want to take a look at a poor attempt to crib your style, I’d be honored.

  6. stormwyvern says:

    The more I read about this film, the more I am convinced that the audience is supposed to come to the conclusion that everything Precrime has assumed about the nature of the precogs is completely wrong. “Precogs can only detect murders because murder is the only even horrible enough to make the timestream go all woogy.” Except that Agatha can predict totally mundane events once she’s out of the swimming pool setting. “Well, OK. But we do know that precogs are always right in their predictions. They see the future, right?” Not so much. The precogs can come up with differing visions and Agatha is capable of seeing a possible future for a (presumably) dead child. (Someone is going to have to explain to me how seeing how great a beloved, deceased son’s life could have been provides comfort and closure to his parents.) It would seem that, at best, the future is not totally fixed and what the precogs see are possible futuresand the focus on murder is more nurture than nature. Precrime’s view of the precogs seems to have been largely developed by Burgess (or his predecessor, if there is one) to convince the public and possibly himself that Precrime is merely using the precogs for their “intended purpose.”

    • charlequin says:

      The government twisting and misrepresenting the truth in order to support a pre-conceived agenda for invasive law enforcement? Say it ain’t so!

  7. The original story ends IN FAVOR of the (slightly) flawed system, and has Anderson sacrificing himself in order to keep it going. The movie turns this completely on its head: the release of every murderer ever caught because of precrime (including serial killers, gangsters etc.) is supposed to make the audience feel that justice has been served. Well, no. It hasn’t, and the world’s gone back to being a really unsafe place… I guess that an ending where they considered every prisoner’s fate on a case-by-case basis was too complex and not spectacular (or touchy-feely) enough…

    • robjmiller says:

      The ending of the film supports a long-standing American position on justice: it’s better for 10 (or 100 depending on the source of the quote) guilty men to go free than for 1 innocent man to be wrongly imprisoned. If the precog system is flawed, that means that precog-based evidence is worthless, and therefore all of the people who had not yet committed a murder can’t be imprisoned.

      However, Philip K. Dick loves tragic endings, so of course Anderton had to die in his version.

      • Todd says:

        For that matter, the simpler logic is: you can’t arrest a man for a murder he did not, for whatever reason, commit.

        • robjmiller says:

          You can arrest people for attempted murder if you have evidence that they are planning on killing someone, which was originally provided by the precogs. However, from the dialog of the man Anderton arrests early in the film, I think Spielberg is following your logic.

          • Todd says:

            In what way is “the precogs say it is so” attempted murder? The Precrime cops go after you whether you’ve attempted anything or not. Even in the opening sequence, they would have stopped the jealous husband with ten minutes to spare if they could have, before it had even entered his mind to kill anyone.

            • robjmiller says:

              Attempted murder is defined as planning to kill someone and taking some action towards doing it (simply writing down that you plan to kill someone is enough for the “action”). In the case of the husband, you’re right. But in any case of 1st degree murder, which requires prior intent, the precogs’ vision would be evidence of the plot. Attempted murderers would not necessarily need to be set free because of the invalidity of the precog evidence, but in the film they are, which supports your view of Spielberg’s logic.

              Or possibly he just didn’t want to make things even more complicated, and “everyone was set free and they all lived happily ever after” is probably a more satisfying ending than “and so began the lengthy and numerous legal battles.”

  8. stephenls says:

    I have heard an apocryphal story that the cut that made it to theater wasn’t the original cut. The original cut, supposedly, was exactly the same, except one more line of on-screen text followed the epilogue after the whole everyone being released thing: “The next year, there were 312 murders in Washington, DC.”

    And apparently this was cut due to focus groups.

    Does one know if there’s any truth to this story? I’d kinda like it to be true, if only because I found Minority Report disappointing but don’t like the theory that says everything after Anderton got haloed was a halucination.