Minority Report is set in a scary dystopian future where Tom Cruise is still in movies. The year is 2054, and Cruise is in charge of the precrime unit which uses three gifted “precogs” with the power of foresight to catch murderers before they kill people. Cruise’s character, John Anderton, is forced on the run, however, when the precogs reveal his name.
Minority Report is a pretty solid sci-fi action film set in what looks like the same glossy, CGI future as about a dozen other sci-fi films from the era. This is one of Cruise’s flattest performances as he fails to breathe life into his unremarkable character and provide an emotional anchor for the film. What’s great about Minority Report is not its acting or its setting but its science fiction ideas, which come thick and fast courtesy of its Philip K Dick source material.
It’s very much like a futuristic Enemy of the State with the political backdrop and the way the main character is forced on the run from powers supposedly designed to protect. Also like Enemy of the State, Minority Report shows how corruption and self-interest can be as great-an enemy to freedom and justice as a tyrannical government.
When John Anderton is named by the precogs as a future murderer, he quickly leaves precrime, but it’s not that simple, because in 2054 iris scans are everywhere. When you go into a shop, your iris is scanned and the holographic shop staff discuss your prior purchases with you.
When you get on a train, your eye is your ticket. When you go to work it’s your security pass. And every time your iris is scanned, information on your whereabouts is sent to a central computer. Unsurprisingly Anderton has a tough time keeping away from the authorities.
The iris scans are interesting because they show how a device designed for convenience can be used for surveillance purposes. It’s certainly convenient to be able to use your eye for everything. There’s no awkward fumbling through a wallet in Minority Report, and presumably much less identity theft. Yet once you’re a wanted man, whether guilty or not, it’s almost impossible to get away.
Since Minority Report‘s 2002 release, GPS has become commonplace on phones, with search engines and social networking sites knowing all our personal information, what we search for and where we are. This is without a doubt convenient, but the film shows the potential of this sort of information to be used for surveillance and control.
One particularly chilling scene takes place when Anderton is on the run. The police chasing him have heat sensors, so he hides in a bath full of ice water in a large residential building. They then send in small, spindly, spider-like robots which are designed to get in small spaces and under doors, performing iris scans on everyone they encounter.
One of the most sinister things about the scene where the robots sweep the building is the way the residents stop what they’re doing and allow themselves to be scanned, accepting this gross intrusion into their private lives. All in the name of security, I suppose.