In the film Minority Report (2002), when Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is first caught by the police for a murder he has not yet committed, he repeats hypnotically, “Everybody runs.” Human nature. Everybody runs. Whether out of fear or self-preservation or something else, the response is entirely human. But in this film, those whom the system deems dangerous are not given a chance to discover their own humanity. They are, instead, put in prison preemptively. The system replaces personal freedom with an element of personal safety. Safety that is, unless the system believes that you will be the next to commit murder.
Prior to being accused of murder, Anderton is a firm believer in precrime. He proudly defends the practice of capturing people before they have committed a crime and cites numerous statistics that, to him, equal success. He does not yet see the great peril of a system so intrusive that it reads minds (and scans eyes) in order to know what will happen before the human knows. The idea of precrime dismisses the importance of human will and of human emotion. In fact, the system hinders human development and cares for citizens more like animals. Much like Oedipus, Anderton wants the truth and therefore must sacrifice his real eyes in exchange for impartial, untraceable eyes and through these, he sees the real system.
Many authors in the Great Books have much to say about the idea of human development within civil society. For example, Kant seeks a path to understanding through a single unified principle that defines humanity. He believes that freedom and free will are based upon the concept of human reason. Humans often desire a system of control and will deploy a logical plan before understanding all of the implications of it or possible outcomes from it. Kant states, “Practical reason has to furnish only a law,” which means that the empirical world of phenomena and actions are to be judged using empirical data. But without the foundation of pure reason, humans would lack an understanding of the impetus for certain actions or the role of a system involved in internal decision making within each individual.
The failure of precrime enlightens this law and the greater system itself. Humans devised a logical plan to address a societal problem, without understanding all of the implications of that structure, which proves one of the following: humans do have a free will which they exert to creatively trespass the boundaries of a given system; or humans are busy inventing solutions for problems without a full understanding of human nature; or both.
The system of precrime, as a political invention, however, leaves us without an understanding of natural justice. It is as stated in the Syntopicon (Justice): “[O]nly the individual who is subject to government can be judged just or unjust. The government itself cannot be so judged, nor can its constitution, its laws, or its acts; for, since these determine what is just and unjust, they cannot themselves be judged for their justice” (663). Therefore, Anderton is pressed to prove not only his freedom, but that the system itself is inherently flawed…it lacks natural checks and balances. He must make the world understand that the system fails to recognize the natural idea of justice – that humans do have the ability to choose. Unlike Hobbes, who felt that man sacrificed natural freedoms to enter into civil society, Anderton now works hard to defend free will itself. He has learned firsthand the intricate elements involved in pure reason.
Those who devised the system felt that its perfection arose from the use of Precogs. But, are the Precogs natural, divine, or do they exist in a liminal world that may allow transmission from one world to the next? If the latter, then what do we make of a divinity that gave humans free will, only to see the human world evolve into a state where they themselves took action to restrict (or annihilate) their own free will? Furthermore, if the Precogs can be seen as a liminal bridge towards divinity, would society want to limit the access of the only existing bridges towards divinity in such a manner? Aristotle believed in corrective justice, but he also felt that justice exists as both a natural law and as a human construct. The Precogs may be a perversion of Aristotle’s view of justice since they embody (physically embody) pure nature but are utilized as a sort of governmental control.
As you can see, there is much to discuss in reference to this single movie (or for those Philip K. Dick fans, in any of his texts too!). From this film alone, we have touched upon the Great Ideas of Justice, Will, Wisdom, Education, Nature, etc. Science fiction often delves into tough questions and uses (seemingly) far-fetched scenarios in order to develop these ideas in a future setting. If you are interested in any of these Great Ideas, in science fiction or in film, we invite you to join our upcoming film seminars. This spring we will discuss three films and their corresponding texts. Contact Rebecca Fisher at rf*****@hm*.edu for more information on the Spring Sci-Fi Film Trilogy.