Minority Report (2002)

Minority Report is Steven Spielberg’s 2002 science fiction film loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. Taking place in a dystopian 2054 when civil liberties and privacy are beginning to seem like mere memories, the film follows Tom Cruise as an officer of the PreCrime division of the Washington D.C. police. As part of this division, Cruise interprets visions from three “Pre-cogs”, and arrests people before they are able to carry out murder.

I didn’t see Minority Report for a long time, and in fact saw it after Avatar. By seeing it this way, it seems almost impossible to me to comment on the film without noting the similarities. From some psychological themes to the advanced technology that both movies employ, it almost seems like Avatar looked heavily toward Minority Report during its development. If I had to crudely compare the two, I’d say that Avatar has the clear upper hand in visual effects, no doubt due to its later production; however, whereas Avatar‘s plot was middling at best, Minority Report offers a fantastic, if somewhat complicated, story that raises some serious philosophical issues.

Minority Report is a perfect example of a well thought-out premise. Both the world in which it takes place and the issues surrounding PreCrime’s mission to arrest people before they commit a crime are fully realized and discussed. Minority Report actually presents a sort of textbook case concerning determinism and free will. It touches on the idea of self-fulfilling prophecies and looks at these issues through a lens of neuroscience and metaphysics. It all makes the film very modern and authentic, and anyone with interests in such cognitive subjects will likely find the film engaging. Some have complained that the movie never offers a satisfying conclusion about the themes that it explores, but such closure is rare in philosophy, especially when dealing with free will. I feel like definitive closure on the matter would have simplified and detracted from the mature presentation of these ideas.

If Spielberg wanted to answer these questions, we should trust that he would have. The technology and world the film takes place in is certainly realized extensively. It’s not just spiffy technology such as elevator automobiles, mechanical police spiders, or Cruise’s giant board that he uses to interpret visions in a sort of holographic dance; it’s also the pervasive feeling that there is nowhere in this world where one can be alone. Like other dystopian films such as Blade Runner, the Big Brother-esque world produces a great feeling of anxiety. We may like the fact that Amazon and Netflix have personalized suggestions for us right now, but how would we feel about holograms announcing those suggestions and your past purchases aloud in the store?

This anxiety and suspense is also heavily augmented by the look of the film. The whole time, we are subjected to a dark world, with heavily saturated colors and deep shadows. A blue wash helps to drown the world in hopeless surrender to technology. It’s fantastically dreary and extremely reminiscent of noir films.

That’s not the only thing that makes Minority Report a science fiction noir. Cruise’s character isn’t the cocky and goofy jock that you might expect him to be; instead, he’s much more akin to the hard-boiled detectives from dark noirs of yore. A lot of the common issues are present: The loss of a son, drug addiction, having to serve with inmates he helped put away. They’re tropes of the genre, but they never feel stale in Minority Report. For his part, Cruise adapts to the character well, proving he’s a versatile actor.

Colin Farrel and Max von Sydow are also talented actors, and they bring interesting characters to the story. Samantha Morton delivers what’s probably the best performance as a very vulnerable and helpless Pre-cog that may help Cruise as he tries to fight wrongful accusation. There are some stellar scenes that stand out, especially one involving Cruise in a bathtub under threat of the government spiders. It’s great in suspense and follows an appreciated cameo by Peter Stormarre.

Minority Report is a bit long, and the plot may seem too convoluted or confusing for some viewers. It’s an intelligent film, but it’s also an outstanding science fiction work, and I can only hope it will be remembered that way in years to come.

Final rating: 8.5/10

–James A. Janisse





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