In the post below you can find my analysis and commentary of the movie Minority Report.

This post was written for the Athens course UPM59 Rage against the machine: Technology and its discontents.

You can find more information about this course here: http://athensupm59.wordpress.com/

I hope you can enjoy it,

Jan Verbist

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Minority Report

Minority Report

1.    Introduction

Steven Spielberg takes us to Washington, D.C. in the year of 2054. An experimental police force Pre-crime arrests murderers even before they commit their crime. This new way of crime prevention is possible thanks to so-called Pre-cogs, mutated humans that can vision murders from the future. By examining their visions, the pre-crime officers can locate the place of the murder and prevent it from happening.

In this near future, technology is more advanced than nowadays but not in an unbelievable way. Most know technologies have been trough an evolution, not so much a revolution.

2.    Society & the technology

There is a very strong presence of a controlling, higher power. An all-controlling government which checks people wherever they go. Eye scanners are used for this purpose and is the most obvious sign of this overlooking system. Opening doors, entering the subway, … each person needs to have their iris scanned.  If the police are looking for someone, they send out robotic ‘spiders’ that scan every person’s eye to see if this person is in violation. They can also control the self-driving cars and redirect them to their location of choice.

In comparison with the other movies we have seen in the course, the masses aren’t so anonymous. While in Metropolis the workers are numbers, and their faces are rarely visible, or THX where humans are numbers as well, this isn’t so in the 2054 of Minority Report. The bigger overlaying social structures & principles or human interaction, however, still stands as they do today. Technology hasn’t really changed too much about this aspect.

The only exception is Pre-crime crime prevention. The movie deals with the implementation of this new system into society. An experiment has been set up for the past 6 years in Washington. This experiment showed to be most successful, making Washington the safest city in the world. Therefore America is on the verge of implementing this system nationwide.

3.    Visual Effects

·      Eyes

Eyes are a very important visual aspect in this movie.

Eye scanners are everywhere and seem to be completely implemented into society. When the police are looking for Anderton, they release a swarm of little eye scanning robots: ‘spiders’. These spiders force everyone, regardless of their current activity, to undergo an eye scan. It’s a very powerful, oppressive, method used by the government.

The government isn’t the only one using eye scanners. While walking though a shopping centre, commercials speak to the individuals addressing them by their name. When entering a shop, a hologram welcomes you with a personal welcome, even remembering previous purchases or preferences. Concerning the privacy of these matters, all of this is a great sociological chance from today. Eyes become the name, the identity. Accessible to everyone: government and salesman. And they both make greedy (ab)use of this.

The underworld has only one way to fool these scanners: an operation that removes or swaps eyes. Since this a rather serious practise, the scanner provides the system which a very powerful, oppressive control system. Anderton undergoes this operation in a creepy scene with very obvious visual references to A Clockwork Orange – another movie about new ways to stop criminal behaviour.

A Clockwork Orange above, Minority Report below.

The eyes of the Pre-cogs are also shown in numerous close-ups. And, in a way, they share their eyes with the pre-crime unit. The unit can see, what they can see. The Pre-cogs serve as a visual channel.

Can you see?” is a question Agatha, one of the Pre-cogs, repeatedly asks antagonist Anderton.

It’s very common in science fiction movies for eyes to be a strong visual image. Eyes are something we consider to show emotion. Poetically you could say they are the way to our soul. Therefore, they become one of the aspects we use to differ us from robots and machines. When a machine become more humanlike, the eye metaphor is used to emphasize this, e.g. the red ‘eye’ from HAL in A Space Odyssey.

·      Transparency & White

Another frequently used visual image in science fiction movies is the colour white. This white represents a new, clean, perfect environment.

In Minority Report the Pre-cogs, in more then one way the most futuristic item in the movie, are kept in the Temple. While the temple itself is dark, the pre-cogs float in a bright pool, wearing a white costume. And so is the building where the pre-crime unit works.

White is present in combination with the use of transparency. The computers and machines are made of glass or transparent plastic. The screens are transparent, memory drives look like pieces of glass, …

All of this makes the technology appear more modern and more futuristic.

·      Water

Water is ever-present during the whole movie. It starts with the sprinkler in the intro within the first prevision from the pre-cogs. But further: the pre-cogs stay in some sort of pool, floating in the water, rain coming down in some critical scenes, Antagonist Anderton loses his son while playing “how long can you hold your breath under water”, Anderton holding his breath in a tub when the ‘spiders ‘ are looking for him, Anne Lively drowned in a lake. The movie ends with Anderton and his wife, pregnant, watching the rain outside.

Thus, water as a visual image appears both positive as negative in the movie.

4.    Religion

In the movie the pre-cogs stay in a room that is called the ‘Temple’. FBI agent Witwer compares the work of the pre-crime agents to the work of a priest. While Anderton refuses to see it that way, he does ‘believe’ in the pre-cogs. He stops believing when the system turns against him by predicting  a murder commited by Anderton. In commercials for the pre-crime system, the pre-cogs are presented as the three ‘miracles’ to stop the increasing homicide rate.

5.    Technology in the movie

Technology does not get into the way of the story. The concept of being able to predict murder is what this movie is about. Technologies are there to make it more convincing that we are in a future that made these mutations possible. The purpose isn’t to show a world with new technologies.

You could say movie actually shows a brighter future. In Washington there have been no murders in six years, thanks to this pre-cog ‘technology’. Premeditated murders exist no more, only passionate murders – red balls in the movie – are in need to be prevailed by the pre-crime unit.

However, the system has flaws. And perhaps this is a message the movie would like to bring across: because the machines are operated and controlled by humans, they are inevitably prone to corruption and misuse. As quoted in the movie: “The flaw is always human”. This is very clearly demonstrated by the way the pre-crime unit has to interpret the flashes from the Pre-cogs. An incorrect labelling a new murder case as an echo is a misinterpreted signal by the operator, making it possible to mislead the system.

Therefore this future isn’t so bright: technology doesn’t save us from corrupt behaviour.

Another ‘dark side’ of the pre-crime is the way the Pre-cogs are being treated. While they are human, the unit uses them as robots, machines that deliver the videos of future murders. They are placed in a fluid called ‘milk’ and are highly doped so they stay in a sort of sleep. As said by antagonist Anderton: “It’s better not to think of them as human”. Also the prison as shown in the movie is very inhumane to our standards. Each person is put into a coma.

Also the oppressive, ever-present system is a negative evolution. Although in comparison with the movies we have seen during our week in Madrid – especially THX 1138 – this is less extreme, but still scary.

6.    Mirror of the present

Minority Report was released in 2002. This is the year after the terroristic 9/11 attacks. Although safety has always been a sensitive topic, while technology advances, it forces us more than ever to answer the question: how much personal liberties are we were willing to sacrifice for the promise of security? Can we arrest people for being under the suspicion of planning a future crime? How far can the government control us and follow our whereabouts? The slogan of precrime is “That what safe also keeps us free”.

This movie shows us the dangers of a controlling and all-knowing government. Because no matter how complex and sophisticated the systems are we create, other humans control them. Therefore susceptible to misinterpretation, abuse and mistakes.

7. Trailer

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