WARNING: Major Spoilers
If you have any plans to see this movie please do so FIRST, before reading this entry.
Tom Cruise plays a guy named Anderton, which is weird because this morning that is what I decided to name the main character in the short film I am writing. In the movie the world is one in which everyone is profiled and marketed to by interactive ads at every turn, same as mine. Strange. Third, their world is one in which crime no longer exists, same as mine. No, just kidding, not same as mine. The entire movie bears no resemblance at all to mine. But those two coincidences are kinda fun, huh?
Okay, so, Tom had a son who got kidnapped. Now he runs this division of pre-crime that stops murders before they happen. Usually they can predict ’em a few days early, when it is a murder of passion they often have a lot less time, maybe 12 hours, for example. Meanwhile they have this awesome computer interface that is motion guided and allows you to fly through information. A lot of this is stuff similar to things made up by sci-fi writers and/or envisioned at the MIT Media Lab, my favorite place and one of the places that receives a shout-out in the credits.
So Tom shoots by all this info in these fuzzy future pictures, searching for clues to figure out who is doing what where, and then they go and stop it, and arrest the person before they commit the crime.
So Tom sees he’s the next killer, of some guy he’s never heard of. And now it gets interesting…can the system be wrong? We go on this notion for much of the movie, and it is a very very cool plot twist that they system turns out to be right, that was just a dead-end tunnel, that isn’t what went wrong. What went wrong is Tom was set up, and the dynamic of how he was is what I find most troubling about this movie.
The idea is that you have these three people who have been genetically mutated and can somehow sense the future. They exist in this little hive mind and figure out who will be murdering whom. So is the system foolproof? Sometimes the dominant seer (or, as they call them, precog) sees a different version of events, an alternate reality. This can lead you to all sorts of cool thoughts about the mailability of the future and pre-ordained actions and on and on, but that one that the movie focuses on is the question of whether once you know the future you can change it.
I think this makes sense. The precogs are seeing a future based on the events of the present — this is the chain of events that will happen. But, like with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, by seeing the future it ceases to be. Once someone knows what will happen, their actions will be different, and thus it won’t happen exactly the same way. In Minority Report their movie science requires that a non-participatory third-party knowing about a future event will not change that event (eg, no strange butterfly effect-like phenomena) but someone who knows about the action and goes to stop it will change the future. So here we get Tom finding out that he is to kill a man, and by knowing that he will do so he can make a choice, take things into his (now more educated) hands, and, in the words of The X-Files, fight the future.
We don’t know what will happen, of course. For every book or show or movie or story about time travel there is a different explanation of how the paradoxes of time will work. This movie generally stays true to a logically valid premise, even if it may not be the “right” premise or one that the viewer necessarily believes. So, in this respect, it is “good” SF. It is logical science fiction, and I can’t fault them on that.
The notion of a minority report is, in fact, a good way of explaining the possibility for fluctuations in time and the idea that events are not necessarily fixed. If there were 5 precogs instead of 3 there would probably be even more minority reports. So again, this is all good.
Similarly, the future is very plausible. Retinal scanners ID-ing people everywhere does not seem unlikely. A pointless war on non-harmful drugs will likely continue. Marketing will become ever more pervasive. Computer interfaces and memory storage devices will improve greatly. Prostitution will change in form to computer programs that let people live in fantasy worlds of their own devising (“I want to kill my boss.” “I’m sure you brought pictures?” “Yeah.” “Okay, we can do that.”) So the movie is really really good in this respect — it creates a plausible and palatable backdrop.
So we finally get to the meat, which is Tom’s future murder. Ignore all of the fun chase scenes and the various measures he takes to avoid identification and get right to the heart of it — why would he kill this guy? Well, the guy is apparently the abductor and murderer of his son, so he has reason. Similarly, having seen himself kill the man at the hotel he knows how to go about it. But what I don’t ever see explained is how he killed the guy in the first place?
Here is the most spoilish section of my post, the major plot giveaway…don’t read this if the previous bits have intrigued you. Turn off your computer, come back later, this review will still be here…
Okay, so it emerges that Tom has been set up, framed, by the old guy. Old guy has hired a man to pose as the child killer, fabricated evidence, planted the clues, doing all this elaborate scheming to bring Tom down because he knows too much. So Tom sees himself killing the guy. But why? Why would he have killed the guy? Except that he saw himself doing so he wouldn’t have known of the man’s existence. This paradox doesn’t fit in with the well-crafted world. Let’s even ignore the whole setup and take this in its simplest possible form.
- A sees himself killing B.
- A wonders who B is, finds him.
- A realizes B is evil, kills him.
Step three takes place only because of the implicit validity of step 1. But step 1 COULD NOT have occurred without step 3. We have a classic time paradox here…a guy goes back in time to tell himself some vital info he knows in the future, then he saves the day because of it only to go back in time and warn himself of this vital info that he picked up from warning himself. In short, there is no beginning! And if this time pattern doesn’t have a non-patterned beginning point, then there is no way to change it! Because once you change step 3, if step 3 is implicitly linked to step 1, you have changed step 1 and invalidated the whole process. This cannot work! The other murder, the murder of the precog’s mother, is brilliant. The way they figured it out is great. The misleading storys, the deception, the pacing is all really great. But this very important piece doesn’t make sense. Or perhaps I am missing something?
Let us move on.
Item: Tom Cruise has his own focus puller. He has his own guy to come on and make sure that he stays in focus. Wow. That was a weird credit.
Steven Spieldberg is moving to a darker tone with his latest movies. First there was A.I. with its scary future world, and now Minority Report. But Spieldberg is still afraid to go whole hog, to give up the happy ending completely. So with A. I. we have the strange section I have always called the “third half” in which David ends his life happy. Same here, as we have a closing narration in which the precog program is shut down, everyone finds peace, everyone is happy, blah blah blah futurecakes. And this happens again here, and that somewhat kills the journey by resolving in a matter that leaves me dissatisfied.
I really felt for the precogs, and their ending is weird. Their ability to see the future leaves them on the brink of sanity, a sanity carefully regulated by drugs and hormones and controlled environments. Once they are set free, their story of survival could be a movie in and of itself, not just a nice fade out on a home on the range where three kids live surrounded by books.
Tom getting back together with his wife? Nice, but again, doesn’t make sense. I thought she left him because he reminded her too much of her son. But then they get back together…and have another kid.
The poor Assistant AG. I really liked him.
The program — six years of stopping murders. Not a single death in all that time. This is amazing. And then we find one minor flaw, a flaw that could be worked around, and we shut the whole project down? What about the people we’ve saved?
Like it or not, right now the US is holding prisoners in countries where civil liberties are not to the level they are now. They are doing this because they want to fight the war on terror and in order to do so they are employing torture to get secrets out of powerful evil people. They are arguably saving thousands of lives. And the cost is only the horrible suffering of a few known evildoers. So keeping three mutants on ice for an indeterminate amount of time for the good of humanity is a much more difficult choice then simply shutting down the program because one of them, god forbid, feels pain.
The ending is cheap, and it really hurts the excellent potential of the movie. Really that is what this movie is — a great story, a wonderful backdrop, but the major storytelling is just not of a high enough moral caliber to fit the incredible fact pattern. The pieces are just not connected carefully enough.
So here is my review: a wonderful future world, a great idea, a good script (with a few bad moments), a story that, while not completely unique, is very compelling. A bad cop-out. A logic flaw. But a very good movie very well executed. A very intriguing scenario. A good detective mystery. A movie that truly kept me guessing for at least the first half. I liked it. I liked it a lot. 4/5 stars. Go see it!