A minority report on Minority Report



Although Stephen Spielberg emerged side-by-side with George Lucas as a purveyor of juvenile film fantasies during the Reagan era, he has evolved into one of the more important social commentators in Hollywood. Whether dealing with racial oppression (The Color Purple, Amistad) or the holocaust (Schindler's List), he is aspiring to the sort of reputation enjoyed by liberals like Otto Preminger or Norman Jewison in years past.

More recently, Spielberg has begun to put forward a somewhat dystopian vision of the future, first with AI, a film set in a post-ecological catastrophe that has left many of the planet's cities underwater.

With the much-hyped Minority Report, Spielberg turns to sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick for inspiration. In this tale, set in 2054, "pre-cogs" can detect murders that have not taken place yet. When Pre-Crime Unit cop John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) discovers that the pre-cogs have identified him as a future murderer, he goes on the run.

Minority Report is the third major film based on Dick's fiction. Along with Bladerunner and Total Recall, it incorporates his favourite theme of a future that teems with technological advances, but within a capitalist context.

In Bladerunner and Minority Report, advertising for the same Fortune 100 corporations that exist today is plastered across buildings and in subway stations. We also find out that the masses rely on vicarious experience mediated through "virtual reality" devices. In Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger takes a virtual vacation to Mars. In Minority Report, Cruise consoles himself with holographic images of his dead son.

Although Dick has a well-deserved reputation for being pessimistic about the future, his message seems softened in Spielberg's treatment. Instead of the grimy and congested urban tableaux of Bladerunner's future Los Angeles, we see a rather smooth-running and spiffy world, only marred by a judicial system that imprisons people even though they might be innocent.

This has suggested to many reviewers that Spielberg is implicitly on the side of the angels, in contrast to US attorney general John Ashcroft's recent police state measures. Alas, this is not quite so.

From Internetnews.com (<http://www.internetnews.com/
), we learn that advertising plays a key role in their vision of the future: "With the help of contemporary advertisers like Lexus, Reebok, Nokia, Guinness, Bulgari and Pepsi-Cola's Aquafina, Spielberg and his team paint a fascinating picture of what advertising might look like in the future — complete with interactivity and personalisation. The vision grew out of a 'think tank' of MIT futurists that Spielberg asked to imagine what the world would be like in 2054. From that team's work, and from the mind of production designer Alex McDowell, grew a panoply of ads that appear throughout the film."

In an interview given to the Boston Herald on June 16, Spielberg said that, based on discussions with these boffins, the future does not look too shabby: "I was just fascinated about how positive some of those views were, notwithstanding the nuclear age we've been in for 50 years and the terrorism we currently have on the homefront."

Oddly enough, the proliferation of ads in Minority Report doesn't seem that different from what you see in any Hollywood movie — the result of a cozy relationship between the studios and big corporations looking for the last centimetre to peddle their wares. It even approaches the chutzpah of novelist Fay Weldon, who wrote the novel The Bulgari Connection on consignment from the jewellers. One wonders if they paid off Spielberg as well.

Considering the fact that among the futurists assembled by Spielberg were members of the editorial board of the techno-libertarian Wired magazine, it is no surprise that the future looks a lot like the present.

Spielberg has been cagey about the Minority Report's relationship to the US government's post-September 11 crackdown on civil liberties. On one hand, he is quoted as saying that Ashcroft would like the film's setup but not the way it concludes.

On the other hand, he told the New York Times: "Right now, people are willing to give away a lot of their freedoms in order to feel safe. They're willing to give the FBI and the CIA far-reaching powers to, as George W. Bush often says, root out those individuals who are a danger to our way of living. I am on the president's side in this instance. I am willing to give up some of my personal freedoms in order to stop 9/11 from ever happening again. But the question is, where do you draw the line? How much freedom are you willing to give up? That is what this movie is about."

In other words, Spielberg has staked out a typical liberal position: for civil liberties in the abstract; against them when they are most needed.

[Louis Proyect is moderator of the Marxism List. Visit <http://www.marxmail.org>.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 10, 2002.
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