By GAETANA CALDWELL-SMITH
The film “Minority Report” is based on a short-story by Philip K. Dick, who also wrote the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” from which the movie “Blade Runner” was made. But “Report,” which takes place in 2054, bears little of the gritty, dark look of “Blade Runner.”
Steven Spielberg made “Report” before Sept. 11. With uncanny prescience, the film reflects today’s atmosphere of fear and paranoia, where, according to some polls, a majority of respondents, in the United States and elsewhere, say they are willing to give up most of their civil rights if doing so would help stop terrorists.
Spielberg said in a New York Times interview that he’s “on the president’s side in this instance. I am willing to give up some of my personal freedoms in order to stop 9/11 from ever happening again. But … where do you draw the line? … That is what this movie is about.”
The premise of the film is the arresting of people for crimes they have not yet committed. The Pre-Crime Unit of the Washington, D.C. police department, headed by Anderton, is alerted to homicides committed in the future-and visualized by two men and a woman, who are termed pre-cogs.
The pre-cogs are kept afloat-imprisoned, really-in a stainless steel tank, with only their faces surfacing from an amniotic-like soup. The most important pre-cog is Agatha (Samantha Morton), who is the key to the entire plot.
Max von Sydow, tall, avuncular, in corporate dress and life-style, plays Lamar, the brains behind the Pre-Crime Unit and Anderton’s boss. Lamar is obsessed with keeping the pre-cogs in an amniotic state in order to maintain his Pre-Crime Unit. He came up with the idea of the program when he discovered Agatha’s psychic talents.
Think Ashcroft, the Patriot Act, and his recent plan for creating TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), where everyone spies on everyone else and reports “suspicious activity” on TIPS hotlines.
The plot thickens when Agatha pins Anderton as a future perp, so he must get away. Anderton’s not-yet-committed crime has to do with avenging the death of his six-year-old son. Here’s where Spielberg, who was doing okay till now, gets smarmy, and the rest of the movie devolves into a convoluted family history of flash-backs, “reach-out-and-touch-someone,” golden-hued landscapes, and home-movies.
A scary but plausible futuristic scene, which is indicative of that society’s complacency, is one where the Pre-Crime Unit releases dozens of spider-like robots into a sleazy apartment building in search of Anderton. These “spiders” creep into every room, and crawl up tenants’ bodies to scan their retinas to identify them for the cops.
The tenants stop eating, having sex, bathing, whatever, to let the spiders do their deed-but the film makes no comment on their apparent passivity.
Retina-scanners are also utilized in a commercial setting, as automated billboards and product displays in malls identify customers, call them by name, and suggest purchases. But here too, the film neglects to reveal people’s reactions to this intrusion.
When you think of all the junk mail that comes over the internet-or by computerized telephone messages saying your name-such technology as the above could be standard way before 2054. Spielberg seems to think this type of privacy invasion is legitimate.
Spielberg depicts a society of enthralled consumers, rather than one fearful of the Big Brother atmosphere. His society accepts without question the complete enmeshing of the state with corporations, where, to borrow a line from Stuart Klawans’ review of the film in The Nation, “Human freedom has already vanished from his [Anderton’s] world in the blink of an eye.”
“Minority Report” could have shaken up audiences or been more futuristically profound. In contrast, “Schindler’s List” had an emotional impact on its audiences not only because was it based on historical fact, but also because of Spielberg’s emotional investment in the subject.
He might have toned down the schmaltz in “Minority Report” and focused more on society’s unsung rebels who would not permit such a total intrusion of privacy. But that would have been a completely different movie. The message in this film is: you can’t escape, so learn to like it.