It’s been ten years since Steven Spielberg made a movie that set a new benchmark in science fiction and changed the future of technology. It almost seems like Spielberg and his team of future experts were the precogs who predicted gestured controlled touch screens, interactive targeted advertising, automatic self-driving cars, all of which are on the verge of being mainstream technologies now.
There are plenty of articles on how Minority Report revolutionsed technology and how it is visionary filmmaking, so it is needless of me to talk about how fucking good the movie is. What I can tell you is that you may have missed something subtly epic in the film.
The year is 2054, a ‘precrime’ police division has emerged that peers into the future and stops crime from taking place. At the heart of the technology is a trio of precogs, the girl Agatha and twin boys who get dreams of future murders and precrime obtains the victims’ names and locations. Things take a turn when the precogs have a vision of the Precrime chief Anderton (Tom Cruise) committing a murder.
Anderton has never met or known his future murder victim and makes a run for it. The sympathetic Precrime Director Lamar Burgess (Max von Sydow) offers help but Anderton learns from a senior Precog researcher that the precogs are never wrong, but occasionally they do ‘disagree’ – when one of them predicts something different. These ‘different’ predictions are called Minority Reports, and they signal an alternate future to some of the criminals arrested by Precrime – which means Precrime sometimes imprisons innocent people.
A devastated Anderton makes his choice to set off to find Agatha and download his Minority Report to prove his innocence. From Agatha he learns of the attempted murder of a certain Anne Lively, a drug addict who was saved by Precrime but has been missing ever since. He meets his future victim Crow, who appears to be his son’s kidnapper. Anderton, however, exercises free will over determinism and stops himself from killing Crow, much to the latter’s chagrin.
It turns out that Crow was directed by an unknown figure to pose as the kidnapper so that Anderton would kill him. Burgess is revealed as the unknown figure who framed Anderton. In the past, Anne Lively had rehabilitated herself from drugs and had wanted her child Agatha back, thus jeopardizing Precrime’s operations. Presenting the film’s great irony, Burgess is forced to kill her to create a world without crime. He hires a chump to kill Lively and gets him arrested by Precrime, and proceeds to murder Lively in the same way that the hired assassin was going to. The technician sees the repeat murder footage as an ‘echo’ and disregards it.
Anderton visits his ex-wife’s home where he figures out that Anne Lively was Agatha’s mother, and is immediately arrested by Precrime. He is imprisoned in the containment chamber. After this point, the film takes a gigantic fork, and most viewers take just the one path they can see.
Anderton’s wife breaks him out of jail and he unleashes the truth about Burgess to the world, after which the villain kills himself. A thrilling, poignant, satisfying but convenient ending. A bit too convenient and improbable. Because it never happened.
Let’s turn the clock back. Earlier in the film, when Anderton goes to the Department of Containment, what does Gideon the guard say to him about the comatose inmates?
“Look at how peaceful they all seem. But on the inside, busy busy busy. It’s actually kind of a rush. They say you have visions. That your life flashes before your eyes. That all your dreams come true”.
That’s right, the comatose inmates aren’t really sleeping. The imprisoned Anderton isn’t in a coma. Nor is he out of his chamber exposing the villain to the world. It’s only all his dreams that are coming true.
This is made most obvious when Anderton is sedated, and the very next scene we see is Burgess extrovertly claiming that ‘It’s all my fault’.
He then brings Burgess down in the most grandiose way possible – by broadcasting his wrongs at a public event honoring his achievements. His former squad members who had no qualms about tripping the alarms and arresting him are suddenly helping him expose Burgess.
When he is framed, Anderton has two choices – be on the run and prove the imperfection of Precrime, or kill his future victim, get arrested and create a mega PR disaster and cause the demise of Precrime. The events following his imprisonment are too perfect. As vengeance, Anderton offers a similar choice to Burgess – to kill him, get arrested and prove that Precrime is flawed, or to not kill him and get arrested and witness the fall of Precrime. Here, Burgess suddenly becomes moral and shoots himself, and apologises to Anderton, and calls him his son – three things that Anderton desperately wanted.
If all that weren’t enough, the perfection only becomes more perfect as Anderton gives up drugs, his wife returns to him, and they have a new baby. This would be a believable real world in a Hindi movie but not so much in a Spielberg film about dreams. The dreaming trio of precogs are also set free and now live in a cabin on a picture perfect island, where Agatha holds a necklace containing her mother’s picture.
Not to mention the logistical mess. It would be preposterous for Anderton’s wife to simply walk in to the Precrime department, let alone into the Department of Containment simply using John’s eyeball.
It’s the freaking police station that is holding all of the city’s criminals. Remember, it was difficult for Anderton himself to walk into the department and rescue Agatha – (he wears a face changing disguise and sneaks in through a hidden back door).
Moreover, the footage that exposes Burgess isn’t the least bit like the dreams and visions that the precogs have. The videos of the precogs’ premonitions are dark, grainy and choppy, while the one that proves Burgess as the killer is perfectly still, clear and bright and vignetted. Because it's the vision that Anderton sees, not the precogs.
It is a storytelling miracle that Minority Report works even with the straightforward happy ending third act, but it is unlikely that Spielberg, who put in so much thought into the film constructed just the one layer. And if you haven’t seen the movie, it’s a precrime. But you preventing yourself from watching it doesn’t change the fact that it is going to happen.