A major theme throughout the film Minority Report is the existence of consequences. Each action, regardless of the nature of the action, will have a consequence. Numerous characters from the movie such as Anderton, Witwer, and Burgess are all held to their actions with various resulting consequences. Interestingly enough, both Witwer’s and Burgess’ consequences were death. The most curious facet of this circumstance is that Witwer had pure motives, while Burgess had much more malicious intent. Witwer, while appearing to be deceitful, ends up in the crossfire even though he was trying to decipher Agatha’s visions to help solve the mystery. Burgess, on the other hand, had to deal with the consequences of murdering Anne Lively. However, both characters met the same fate. Witwer, along with the audience, was blindsided by Burgess’ actions and arguably could not have prevented his fate. Conversely, if Burgess had internalized the likely ensuing consequences, his actions may have not led to his demise. However, since consequences in general are unavoidable, it can be difficult to predict future outcomes.
The idea of constant consequences is consistent with the ideas of William James. James understands how ambiguous situations, and life itself, can be, and suggests that predicting consequences can aid in the distinction. He states, “Is the world one or many? – fated or free? –material or spiritual? – here are notions either of which may or may not hold good of the world; and disputes over such notions are unending. The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences” (James 25). James is saying that we can use consequences to help clarify and sort our ideas before we act on them. Additionally, James asserts that “An idea’s meaning must equal its consequence.” This can be interpreted to mean that if you have no consequence, then there is no relevance to the idea at all. Therefore, we shouldn’t avoid consequences, but rather be intelligent about what consequences we are willing to endure.
In class we discussed the jazz musician who preached that “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” The musician meant this in a creative way to break down musical style boundaries, but this statement is relevant to the movie in that Burgess was only able to deceive the department because he knew the system so well. While Burgess used this idea for evil, this concept is also relevant in numerous other areas of life. Once you are able to understand the rules and consequences, you are then able to successfully break them in ways that may not end up harming yourself. Correspondingly, once you fully know the consequences you are able to make significantly smarter decisions. While Anderton was in the prison trying to see old memory clips the security guard warned him that if you “Dig up the past and all you get is dirty.” The guard knew the metaphorical “rules” of digging through the past and was trying to warn Anderton of its risk and potential consequences. However, sometimes there is a benefit to potentially being vulnerable to a negative consequence as we see at the end of the movie. As Dr. Hineman suggests to Anderton before he embarks to clear his name, “Sometimes in order to see the light you have to risk the dark.” Minority Report reminds the audience that all actions have a form of consequence, and that we must never neglect taking that into consideration or else we may pay for it dearly.
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The concept of identity is an influential theme in Minority Report from the very beginning of the film. As we are introduced to John Anderton we garner the impression that the lively face of the Pre-Crime division has, and will continue to be, its greatest supporter and ally. Though he later falls from grace from the mere manipulation of the senses and goes from hero to criminal in a matter of minutes. What does this say about the nature of identity? Anderton is no less virtuous of a man than he was minutes before the Precog’s vision of Leo Crow’s murder, and yet society’s blind faith in the Pre-Crime system’s procedures labels him a detriment to the people he once protected.
This calls to mind Descartes’ analogy of the piece of wax illustrated in his second meditation in Meditations on First Philosophy. According to Descartes, wax takes many shapes and colors, and thus can take many forms according to the human senses. However Descartes explains that if he were to “distinguish the wax from its external forms, as if stripping it of its clothing…(he) cannot perceive it thus without the human mind” (Descartes, 23.32). The very issue at hand within the Pre-Crime program extends from the fact that police officials rely on the Precog visions that will inevitably fail them because they are of course sensory-dependent. They cannot tell the true identity or intentions of those involved in the precog visions, only a vague scene of the future crime is enough for conviction in this near-future American justice system.
Therein lies the dilemma for John Anderton who, as we later find out, is one of many victims of the manipulation of the programs director Lamar Burgess. In this way the film’s producers make another excellent appeal to Descartes’ philosophical approach to identity and the nature of existence. Descartes calls to question the existence of a “malicious deceiver” (Descartes, 19.27) who may adulterate our senses to give a false impression of the world around us. This leads to his famous thesis that human existence can only be acknowledge through the fact that we are innately thinking things, with the ability to doubt our senses.
Within the context of Minority Report, Burgess fits the role of the malicious deceiver perfectly. Falsifying not one but two murders throughout the film, Burgess does exactly what Descartes describes in adulterating the preocog visions to alter the identities of both himself and Anderton for his benefit and the benefit of the Pre-Crime division’s existence. It only seemed just that, in the closing minutes of the film, Burgess ironically suffers a similar fall from the public’s esteem through Anderton’s keen sense of doubt, his only true weapon against Burgess’ deceit. Once Anderton accepts the harsh truth that his once-beloved Pre-Crime division was flawed by human error of the senses, his abilities as a thinking thing provokes his further inquiry into Burgess’ fraudulence and inevitably brings down his former mentor in a manner similar to what was attempted against him earlier in the film.
Throughout The Minority Report, there are multiple references that question the existence of free will. Placed in the future in the year 2054, the main character, Captain John Anderton leads the Washington DC “PreCrime” division. This division of the police force is focused on preventing murders before their actual occurrence. Through a utilization of the three Precogs, the PreCrime division is able to predict the time, place, and scenario of all future murders. The existence of the Precogs asserts that individuals have no free will, and that the world is truly representative of Spinoza’s deterministic society.
Spinoza claims that individuals have no free will, and that all individuals’ actions are a result of necessity. According to Spinoza, fate is predetermined, and individuals cannot avoid the future. In the Minority Report, the PreCrime division wholeheartedly believes that free will is an illusion. The PreCrime division believes that once an individual is proven to murder, they cannot avoid this fate. It is evident that the PreCrime divisions philosophy towards free will is highly aligned with Spinoza. The movie begins with the Precogs prediction of a nearby murder. Anderton reacts immediately and identifies the exact location of the predicted murder. Arriving at the nick of time, it is revealed that the Precogs prediction was true. Anderton stops the murder and attributes this form of justice to the deterministic predictions of the Precogs.
The world in the Minority Report truly believes in the existence of determinism. Murder rates plummet as the PreCrime division seemingly accurately prevents all of the murders of the future. Cameras and eye scanners are allowed to be placed throughout the city for the primary purpose of protection. Anderton wholeheartedly believes that the PreCrime division is flawless and that its existence could have saved his son. This lack of doubt is brought into question when Anderton is predicted to kill Leo Crow in less than 36 hours.
Anderton spends the following hours attempting to identify the minority report and prove his innocence. Anderton no longer believes that the world is truly deterministic, and searches for proof of free will. This proof of free will would ultimately prove that the Precogs predictions are flawed, and allow him to avoid being haloed. Anderton fails to prove his innocence in time, and is haloed; however, through a sequence of unlikely events Anderton is brought back.
Anderton proves that Lamar murdered Anne Lively, and puts Burgess in a complex scenario. Burgess is provided with a choice of either killing Anderton or proving the Precogs wrong. If he kills Anderton, the Precogs prediction is proven correct and Lamar will be haloed forever. However, if Lamar does not kill Anderton, he will prove that the Precogs predictions are indeed flawed, and will bring question to the existence of free will. Ultimately, Lamar ends up killing himself and proving that the Precogs are indeed flawed. Lamar’s actions are a true example of free will, and this sequence of events forces the disbanding of the PreCrime division and proves that free will does exist in this futuristic society.
While it has become a part of everyday life, science is also a philosophical theme. It appears as a philosophical theme in Minority Report in a larger role than just as technology created with the purpose of making life easier. In Minority Report, science controls the entire PreCrime system. By hooking up computers and screens to the Precogs, John Anderton and the other PreCrime officers are able to see a crime before it happens in order to stop it. However, this does not depend on technology alone. Without the mysterious abilities of the Precogs, no crimes would be foreseen. As William James says in Pragmatism, the combination of science and religion is one “that nature offers very frequently” (James, 10). James talks about religion as another way of referring to reason, and value, or in other words feeling. John struggles to find the balance between science and feeling as the movie goes on. PreCrime found its success in focusing on science when John had no connection to the Precogs. But this could not last long, because life is a blend of rationalism and empiricism (James, 10). As soon as John’s name appears as a murderer his rational side takes control. Between his pain from the loss of his son, sympathy for Agatha’s loss of her mother, and hurt from being betrayed by Lamar, John is never able to separate his emotions from his job again. In the end John is unable to find a balance between science and human emotion that allows the PreCrime system to be successful.
Science is also incorporated into Minority Report as an integral part of life. The movie takes place in 2054, a time when science is more than a laboratory or a handheld electronic. Instead, at this point science has led to the creation of a technological world. Everywhere that John turns, there are more scientific inventions. Not only does this include the entire PreCrime system and headquarters, but also the advertisements that present themselves wherever John travels. For instance, when John walks into GAP, he is bombarded by personalized advertisements that recognize him by his eyes (although they are not John’s own eyes, but someone else’s). These ads welcome him by name and mention his previous purchases there. In this technological world, people are information. Martin Buber says in I and Thou, “the individual can replace direct experience more and more with indirect experience, ‘the acquisition of information’” (Buber, 88). In the society that Minority Report takes place in, society relies on technology that draws information from people. Experiences between people and objects are no longer important, just the implications from them. When John walked into the GAP store, the advertisement turned his personal experience with GAP clothing into a means to an end. Assuming that they were John’s real eyes being recognized, the science would not find it significant who bought the clothing for John, what occasion it was for, or what memories he had in the clothing. Conversely, the science behind the ad only recognized the fact that he owned a piece of GAP clothing, a piece of information that means that he may buy more in the future.
Danny Witwer is a character in Minority Report who plays a significant role in the discovery of truth and knowledge and the impact that doubt and questioning can have on reality. Witwer is a member of the United States Department of Justice and is responsible for investigating and raising questions regarding the functionality and truth behind the PreCrime system. Witwer is assigned to audit the PreCrime system and engage in an investigation of the system as the PreCrime system is poised to go nation-wide due to its success. Witwer’s demeanor and apprehension in regards to the PreCrime system exemplify the philosophical nature his character in the film. As is the case with much philosophy, raising questions is essential to uncovering truth and certainty. Witwer’s doubts in regards to the PreCrime system align with Descartes’ ideas that doubt is needed to be eradicated in order to uncover truth. From the onset, Witwer is doubtful of the accuracy and legitimacy of the PreCrime system, causing him to raise questions and concerns during his investigation. The doubt that Witwer had in the system allowed him to raise questions and uncover the truth about the PreCrime system, eventually being the first person to put together the pieces of the puzzle and uncover the fact that inconsistencies were present surrounding Lamar Burgess and the death of Anne Lively, in which the truth was eliminated through the minority reports of the varying perspectives of the Precogs.
Witwer was able to uncover the issue with the PreCrime system by raising questions regarding the legitimacy of PreCrime during his investigation. Witwer had to doubt how Lively was killed, who was drowned according to the visions presented by the Precogs, in order to find out more about PreCrime and the specifics of how it worked. The ultimate truth about PreCrime and its function was discovered due to the questioning and apprehension of Witwer. Witwer’s exploration of the truth and quest to uncover new knowledge eventually resulted in his death as he was killed by Lamar Burgess when Witwer confronted Burgess and presented his discoveries regarding the illegitimacy of the PreCrime system to the Director of PreCrime.
Witwer maintained a demeanor of confidence and arrogance throughout the film as displayed by his actions regarding the investigation of the PreCrime system. This confidence provided Witwer with the ability to raise questions and not shy away from challenging Anderton, Burgess, or any others associated with the PreCrime system. By asking the difficult questions and not backing down or getting discouraged, Witwer was able to ultimately uncover the truth about the PreCrime system of justice. When examining footage of Lively’s death, Witwer is able to discover varying direction of water ripples and concludes that the footage is not from only one vision of a Precog, but instead two. This discovery is significant as it leads him to unraveling the truth regarding the PreCrime system and the differences that can occur in the perspectives of the Precogs.
Danny Witwer was an important character in the film Minority Report as his actions throughout the film were essential to the investigation of PreCrime and the discovery of truth and reality in the world that is presented in the film. Witwer was able to provide a different perspective when it came to the PreCime system, something which William James mentions as being essential to unveiling certainty and truth. The new perspective from Witwer varied from those close to the PreCrime system (Anderton and Burgess) and allowed for truth to be discovered. Witwer maintained knowledge of his reality and was able to execute his investigation by sticking to his questions and focusing on the task at hand in order to uncover certainty and truth. Just as questioning is essential in philosophy to the discovery of knowledge, reality, and information pertaining to the self, Witwer was able to effectively doubt and question the ideas and concepts of the PreCrime system in order to ultimately unveil the truth.