Minority Report (2002)

I like sci-fi movies, and I like Tom Cruise movies, but I don’t like this particular sci-fi Tom Cruise movie, which I just watched for perhaps the second or third time. It’s a murder mystery that thinks it’s sci-fi—a philosophical murder mystery with some annoying CGI and a dash of horror.

See below for more thoughts (no spoilers).

Minority Report has a lot going for it, in some sense. It’s about free will vs. determinism. It upholds the idea that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It concludes that people are not billiard balls, and a policy that “works” is not necessarily justifiable.

However, it kicks off with a disturbing vision of a murder, and it’s built on two rather grim deaths. As I suppose is the case with any murder mystery, the story is the backstory, and the backstory is tragic. Even though the good guy wins, the story is dark. People can heal from their losses, but the losses themselves are irreversible: Nothing can bring back the victims. That’s my problem with the entire mystery genre.

Stylistically, Minority Report is cobbled together from scenes that belong to disjointed worlds: a high-tech government facility, some normal-looking if expensive private homes, a slum worthy of a horror movie, zooming mag-lev cars (prefiguring the ones in the newer Total Recall), a greenhouse in the woods, a cozy retreat in the countryside. The special effects (apart from the hands-up computer interface the movie is known for) seemed grafted on. Overly animalistic AI “spiders” seek their prey on four legs; Tom Cruise plays frogger on a vertical highway; snake-like poisonous vines writhe, squirm, and lash out at any threat.

One thing I appreciated during this re-watch was how many references the movie makes to eyes and vision. Seeing is knowing. That’s a metaphor we use all the time and thus take for granted—unless we’re in the midst of analyzing E.M. Foster’s A Room with a View.

Minority Report asks whether we can see the future, which is ironic because—as John Anderton realizes—we’re not that great at examining the past. Eyes are used to identify people at their workplaces, on public transit, and in shopping malls. A character who wears glasses is blind to his wife’s infidelity. “In the land of the blind,” quips a drug dealer with empty sockets, “the one-eyed man is king.” It’s nearly impossible to, uh, overlook the correspondence between seeing and knowing while watching Minority Report because the script wields so many words and phrases referring to sight—more elegantly, it must be said, than In Time (2011) uses language referring to time.

As much as there is to admire, I can’t say I enjoyed Minority Report; overall I found it unpleasant, and there were parts of it so disgusting that I couldn’t bear to watch. That being said, you’re probably less squeamish than I am! Rotten Tomatoes is currently rating it 90% fresh… unlike that sandwich.

Among the movies I’ve seen that are based on short stories by Philip K. Dick, I still like Paycheck (2003) the best.