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Minority Report – Movie Review Essay

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Imagine a near perfect functional state where virtually everything knew your personal information, the streets are filled with laughter, smiles and murder is known to be non-existent. Minority Report, one of Steven Spielberg’s most popular films shows the viewers a near perfect utopian state where all crime has been eliminated. There is an evident observation in the movie that depicts the way people behave and act. No doubt there is a large change in society compared to the society we have today. The change in society, culture, and norms were all impacted due to the heightened change in technology. Minority Report, revolves around John Anderton (portrayed by Tom Cruise), a chief and detective that works for the newly developed justice system known as Pre-Crime. Pre-Crime is a private police force set in Washington D.C that uses the future visions of 3 mutated humans with precognitive abilities to predict and stop future murders.

These visions explicitly give the perpetrator and the victim’s names and hints on clues on the time and date that the murder will take place. Anderton and the Pre-Crime force then use sophisticated technology and advance computers to quickly get to the victim to fully stop the crime and arrest the perpetrator. Throughout the movie it clearly shows how future technology has been embedded into the lives of the citizens living in that society. Prior to directing Minority Report, Spielberg “convened a three-day conference about what life will be like in the year 2054. He invited writers, urban planners, technological innovators and various other prognosticators” to give him an insight on how specific scenes and society will be like. (Clarke)

With this knowledge Spielberg was able to mimic a futuristic state that was closely related to what experts would predict. This gives the viewers an accurate analogy of the future and shows how technology and society functions cohesively. In Minority Report it is clearly expressed that technology has overruled the state of Washington. The citizens living in Washington during the 2054’s are faced with no crime and murder. However they still face negative implications with technology, the significant implications that are contrasted through the theme of the movie are: Technology as a means of de-skilling/un-employing human beings, technology as a means of total surveillance on individuals, and finally technology as a means of exploitation of humans to achieve other goals or tasks.

First of all, the movie begins with Anderton using computer technology to discover the whereabouts of the perpetrator. The images that Anderton sees on the computer screen are all generated by the “pre-cogs”. Anderton then takes these clues within the images to try to specific pinpoint the exact location, time and date that the murder will take place. Transparent disks are being used to transfer live video capture and large amounts of data instantly, which makes the Pre-Crime unit function more efficiently. It’s noted that these transparent disk can transfer entire federal databases, with computer technology that has built in facial recognition and within minutes allowed Anderton to find the suspect. Presently that process can take over a few hours or days depending on how much information is collected. After the suspect is taken into custody, Pre-Crime places a device which is known as a Halo which paralyzes the body and occupies the mind making the perpetrator completely helpless.

This process can be defined as the de-evolution of skills and jobs. The progression of technology has eliminated the need for secretaries, detectives, correctional officers and prison guards. Minority Report can be directly related to the views of Heather Rolfe a research officer in the Department of Sociology at University of Essex. In the publication “Skill, deskilling and new technology in the non-manual labour process” she argues that the change in skill is blamed on the” increasing automation of industrial processes and the development of computer technology”. (Rolfe) The invention of the internet and computers has significantly de-skilled office workers and secretaries with word processing programs such as Microsoft Office, perhaps the most widely used program throughout corporations. In Minority Report the viewers also witness entire jobs being eliminated.

“The Pre-Crime program began in the year 2046… and now 9 years later, the district of Columbia is the safest city in America. Pre-crime has eliminated the need for conventional detectives”. (Spielberg) With technology it definitely promotes a better lifestyle, makes things easier, and allows for an improved standard of living. However there’s a large downside to modern technology, society “has turned these technological marvels into so many means of destroying jobs” (Socialist Labour Party) As more experienced employees are faced with scenarios where technology can literally “do their job” they can easily be replaced. In “De-skilling Effects of Journalists” by Chang-de Liu he argues that “the degradation of reporting work resulting from the use of ICTs has enabled managers at Taiwanese newspapers to hire young employees to fill the jobs of experienced reporters and to reduce salary costs. (Liu)

As seen in Minority Report they’ve hired a male in a wheelchair to fill the position of the warden. Throughout the movie we do not see any other employees working at the prison but him and shows him dwelling in a small space that describes his living situation and a computer for him to do the required work. The viewers can examine that this handicapped warden took the jobs of all correctional officers, secretaries, and guards. In Minority Report literally everything is digitized where they rarely rely on physical labour to manufacture goods and complete simple tasks. “Digitising involves only the positioning of the cursor and pressing of buttons.” (Rolfe).

Capitalism in the movie was viewed to utilize the technology to increase profits. Why pay workers an annual salary when in the long run it would be cheaper to purchase machines? “Capitalist class that owns and controls this technology has only one view in mind: to cut costs and swell the bottom line. They could not care less what detrimental effect the profit motive has on society so long as profits are rolling in.” (Socialists Labour Party) The rise of technology and capitalism are contributing forces that virtually cannot be stopped by means of economically or politically.

Anderton, though, goes from the hunter to the hunted. He gets a vision from Agatha, considered to be the strongest of the pre-cogs that Anderton is about to kill a man. He manages to escape a state-wide manhunt for him. The scene where Danny Witwer (Portrayed by Colin Farrel), an agent from the Department of Justice is in pursuit of Anderton shows them to what appears to be an automotive factory where cars are assembled. At this plant we see no employees and all the manufacturing are done strictly by machines. Due to the elimination of jobs in the auto industry this movie also presents a clear picture of the degradation of technology. Although technology becoming obsolete is evident throughout history and it is known that technology still requires to be humanly operated, however in the movie the car that’s being produced the tires, doors, and hood were being welded on by machines, automatic paint job, and within the time span of 5 minutes the car is finished and ready to be operated. Again, viewers see no employees at the factory.

This addressed Frederick Winslow Taylor’s principle on scientific management, “develop a science for every individual job. This science should replace rule-of-thumb work methods with standardized work environments and proper working conditions. And choosing the right workers catered to the right field of work”. (Taylor). Taylor’s method argues that “work and tasks should be made simpler so that workers could be trained to perform their skills. Thus the productivity of the organization will increase overall. In short it can be described as “one best way” to do a job”. (Taylor) Ironically the “best way” to complete the tasks would obviously be the most cost and time efficient method, hence replacing all skilled workers with mechanic machines. This addresses Taylor’s hypothesis of how the world would apparently turn out.

Another notable theme in the movie was the aspect of technology and total surveillance on individuals. In Minority Report we see “surveillance as a powerful mechanism of social control”. (Whitaker) Virtually everything is done via retinal scanning from identifying criminals and charging people on the subway platform and personalized greetings in shopping centers. This implication may impose the end of privacy,”Thanks to dramatic technological advances, surveillance monitoring can now provide nearly global coverage, exposing the everyday lives of ordinary people–in the workplace, at school, on the Internet, everywhere–to serve public, private, and prurient interests. Today, private-information brokers amass databases for an innumerable variety of commercial purposes–from credit reporting to mass marketing.

Vast amounts of detailed personal information, including seemingly useless minutiae, end up in corporate hands.” (Whitaker)However, with the end of privacy it doesn’t seem as if the citizens have a problem with it, as they grew accustomed to the situation. One scene that portrayed a heavy sense of surveillance is when Anderton hides in a worn-down apartment to recover from an eye operation. The Pre-Crime units sent in “spiders”, small robotic devices that intrudes each room to take retina scans of the people’s eyes to identify criminals. As the camera shows the viewers an inspiring set of scenes that image a couple arguing, an old man on the toilet, and a male and female having intercourse. They all stop for a few moments to allow these “spiders” to zap a laser in their eyeball, then they’ll resume on with their current activity. Although these activities would remain private only in the sanctity of a home the residents still allow these devices to interrupt knowing that the information collected belongs to a third-party organization (Pre-Crime).

The idea of mass marketing has been replaced with mass-personalized marketing in the film. Through electronic billboards and advertisements it greets the customer directly and calls out the name of the customer. An ad for American Express shows the name on the card with the “member since” field dynamically displayed and updated to show that person’s membership. The most interesting and intriguing ad in the movie is when Anderton walks into a Gap store, the ad welcomes him back and asks if he “enjoyed the shirts” he had bought recently.

As Toby Lester a reporter for The Atlantic argues, “What is unsettling to a lot of people is the idea that personal data-in this case, one’s very life signs-might be converted into information that could be exchanged, bought, or sold for secondary use without one’s knowledge or consent” (Lester) In today’s society “People give away vast amounts of valuable information about themselves, wittingly or unwittingly, by using credit cards, signing up for supermarket discount programs etc…” (Lester) What’s interesting about Minority Report is that it doesn’t give the consumer to option to allow or refuse services; they literally have no choice in the matter. Thus eliminating privacy and making personalized-marketing one of the most powerful forms of advertising in 2054.

Another form of extreme surveillance portrayed in Minority Report follows the utilization of the “pre-cogs”, three children when hooked up to computers can anticipate murders before they happen. But, if the crime does not actually occur, the murders are never committed, so is it ethically right to arrest such “murderers”? As Witwer mentioned, “Ever get any false positives? Someone intentionally about to kill his boss or wife but never goes through with it? How do the Pre cogs tell the difference?” (Spielberg) In today’s world, individuals have the freedom to act – the freedom to commit the crime and the responsibility to bear the consequences? (Ubersite). Another large flaw with the Pre-Crime system is the disagreement of the precogs and people beating the system by committing a murder similar to a recent one, then having people delete the logs.

Although it would drastically reduce murder rates, it would still violate on the individual rights and might falsely convict “murderers”. The interesting feature of the pre-cogs is that they are able to have total surveillance on “criminals”. This is an example of “The Panopticon”. In 1785, a British philosopher Jeremy Bentham invented the Panopticon, a type of prison. The significant feature of the design was that the inspector can see each the prisoners at all times without actually being seen. The prisoners never knew for sure whether they are being watched or not, thus conveying a sentiment of invisible omniscience (Lang, 52) The “murderers” have no way of knowing that the pre-cogs have a sense of total surveillance on them.

Finally, the final pessimistic theme that negatively impacts the movie is the idea that technology is used to abuse humans. The prime example would lie in the use of the pre-cogs. The pre-cogs are to lie completely still in a small body of water within a small room and their sole purpose is to stop these “future murders”. Anderton refers to the room as a “temple” but as the viewers we clearly see that it is a form of isolation. They are hook up to technology that limits their free will and they are not allowed to exit the “temple”. With the exception of Agatha, who was broken out by Anderton. An example of this would lie in the Tuskegee Experiments, one of America’s most notorious experiments. The research conducted was to see the progression of syphilis in African American males if the disease was to be left untreated.

“There was no proven treatment for syphilis. But after penicillin became a standard cure for the disease in 1947, the medicine was withheld from the men. The Tuskegee scientists wanted to continue to study how the disease spreads and kills. By then, dozens of the men had died, and many wives and children had been infected” (Chadwick) In relation to Minority Report, the pre-cogs were locked up to benefit the greater good by using their abilities. Eugenics has also been a supplying cause for the uses and misuses of technology. As David King author of “Eugenic Tendencies in Modern Genetics” said “The combination of rapidly developing genetics and reproductive technology, free marketing capitalism, and underlying eugenic patterns of thought are creating the conditions of dramatic expansion of laissez-faire eugenics.

Until now this has been largely a matter of preventing the birth of babies with down syndrome, spina bifida, and a few rare genetic diseases” (King, 177). Prevention of life is portrayed in Minority Report when the pre-cog’s aren’t given the opportunity to experience life itself. As Marsha Saxton, author of “Disability, Rights and Selective Abortion” argues: “If “choice” is made to mean choosing the “perfect child” , or the child of “the right gender”, then pregnancy is turned into a process and children are turned into products that are perfectible through technology”. (Saxton, 111) Pre-crime strives to utilize technology and biotechnology to exploit humans into making the “perfect” resource.

In conclusion, Minority Reports offers a dark and insightful view on technology and its impact on society. At the beginning of the film the viewers are surrounded by optimistic observations that the citizens of Washington are living in a near-perfect society where murder is eliminated. However as the film progresses we start to see how technology slowly took over the world and is actually disgracing life rather than improving it. The process of elimination of skills and jobs within humans, people willing to give up a portion of their privacy and freedom in order to be safe from murder, in other words – surrounded by the invisible perception of total scrutiny and finally the abuse of technology and biotechnology towards humans to achieve “greater goals” and fulfill other needs. Ironically the direction of the film heads into a dystrophic state where a huge sacrifices must be adhered to in order to function in an advance technological position.

Works Cited

Chadwick, Alex (2002). Remembering Tuskegee. National Public Radio,Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/2002/jul/tuskegee/Clarke, Darren J. (2002). MIT Grad directs Spielberg in the science of movie making. Massachusetts institute of technology, Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2002/underkoffler-0717.htmlKing, D. (2001). Eugenic Tendencies in Modern Genetics. In B. Tokar (Ed.), Redesigning Life? (pp 171-181). Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Lang, Silke B. (2004). The Impact of Video Systems of Architecture.

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://graphics.ethz.ch/Downloads/Publications/Dissertations/Lan04.pdfLester, Toby (2001). The Reinvention of Privacy. The Atlantic Retrieved November 9, 2008,from http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200103/lesterLiu, Chang-de (2006). De-skilling Effects on Journalists : ICTs and the Labour Process of Taiwanese Newspapers Reporters. Canadian Journal of Communication Vol31,Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://www.cjc-online.ca/index.php/ journal/article/view/1763/1881Meyer, Stephen (n.d). The Degradation of Work Revisited: Workers and Technology in the American Auto Industry, 1990-2000. Automobile in America Life and Society, Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://www.autolife.umd.umich.edu/ Labor/L_Overview/L_Overview1.htmRaines, Paul (2008) Minority Report. Network World, Retrieved November 9, 2008, fromhttp://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/110408-minority.html?fsrc=rss-securitySaxton, M. (2006). Disability Rights and Selective Abortion. In L. J. Davis (Ed.), The Disability Studies Reader, Second Edition. New York: Routledge.

Sexton, S. (2001). If Cloning is the Answer, What was the Question? Genetics and the Politics of Human Health. In B. Tokar (Ed.), Redesigning Life? The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering, (pp. 158-170). Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Socialist Labor Party Statement (2005). Technology and Job Loss Socialist Labor Party, Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://www.slp.org/res_state_htm/tech_jobloss.htmlSpielberg, S (Director), & Dick, P (Short Story), & Frank S (Screenplay). (2002). Minority Report [Motion Picture]. United States: DreamWorksTaylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of Scientific Management. Project Gutenberg,16 March. 2008Ubersite (2004). Minority Report: Is utopia achievable through Surveillance. UberSite, Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://www.ubersite.com/m/25407Whitaker, R. (1999). The Panopticon. In R. Whitaker (Ed.) The End of Privacy: How Total Surveillance is Becoming a Reality, New York: The New Press.

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