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Minority Report and Film Adaptation: Part 2

[See Minority Report and Film Adaptation Part 1.]

Dick, Philip K. Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.

[…] Anderton said: “You’ve probably grasped the basic legalistic drawback to precrime methodology. We’re taking in individuals who have broken no law.”

“But they surely will,” Witwer affirmed with conviction.

“Happily they don’t—because we get them first, before they can commit an act of violence. So the commission of the crime itself is absolute metaphysics. We claim they’re culpable. They, on the other hand, eternally claim they’re innocent. And, in a sense, they are.”

The lift let them out, and they again paced down a yellow corridor. “In our society we have no major crimes,” Anderton went on, “but we do have a detention camp full of would-be criminals. (228-229)

In “Minority Report,” John Anderton is the founder and chief of Precrime. He acknowledges the apparent dilemma of precrime, but he doesn’t consider it a dilemma: it’s not a problem to imprison people who would have been considered innocent under the old “post-crime” legal system (obviously, since they haven’t actually committed a crime), because they certainly would have committed a crime if given the chance. It’s an odd metaphysics: The people who will commit a crime have no free will; their future is determined. But for the police who know the future, it remains undetermined; they can prevent a crime they know will be committed. It’s unclear what happens to precriminals; they may be imprisoned only until the time of their alleged crime is past or they may be imprisoned indefinitely. But either way, the system is problematic, at least from a human-rights perspective: if the police can change the future, then the future must be indeterminate; and it seems—to me, anyway—that we could reasonably doubt the rectitude of a conviction for a potential crime, however likely. But Anderton has absolute faith in the system, until the prediction of his own commission of murder comes in:

“You have to be taken in—if Precrime is to survive. You’re thinking of your own safety. But think, for a moment, about the system. […] Which means more to you—your own personal safety or the existence of the system?”

“My safety,” Anderton answered, without hesitation.

“You’re positive?”

[…] “If the system can survive only by imprisoning innocent people, then it deserves to be destroyed. My personal safety is important because I’m a human being.” (250)

He has apparently be framed—by his new assistant Witwer, he first thinks, but it turns about to be the Army—for the future murder of retire general Leopold Kaplan, except it turns out he wasn’t framed: the prediction is accurate. But he nows he won’t kill Kaplan—he was going to kill Kaplan the Army manipulated events so that he would, and after he discovers this plot he suddenly has no reason to commit murder. As it turns out, though, that was the Army’s plan all along: get a murder prediction for Anderton, let him discover their plot to prevent him from actually committing the murder, then discredit Precrime by revealing the clearly inaccurate prediction. Their goal is to get Precrime shut down so they can step in and take control of the police state.

Actually, one of the precog mutants (there are three) is slightly out of phase with the other two, like a clock running slow; and he, with Anderton’s knowledge of his own future as part of his predictive data set, predicts that Anderton will not commit murder. This minority report, as it’s called, doesn’t help Precrime much, as the Army plans to present it as proof that Anderton wouldn’t have committed murder. When a minority report occurs, it’s assumed that the majority report is accurate, so the Army can point out that in Anderton’s case, the minority report is in fact the accurate prediction.

What’s more important: his own life, or the system he created? Will he sacrifice the system he created to save himself? He sure will—until he discovers the Army’s goal of usurping Precrime’s position, at which point he quickly and silently changes his mind. After reviewing the three precog reports, he discovers that there are in fact three out-of-phase minority reports: the first predicts he will murder Kaplan, the second predicts he will change his mind and not murder Kaplan, the third predicts he will change his mind again and murder Kaplan after all. The third prediction provides him an opportunity to foil the Army’s plan: he must murder Kaplan to demonstrate the system’s accuracy. Will he sacrifice himself to save the system he created? He will. But only a few minutes before he finally decides to kill Kaplan, he was convinced of the system’s inhumanity and injustice. How does he justify his change of heart? He cheats. When Witwer worries about the serious flaw in the system implied by Anderton’s surprising sequence of predictions, Anderton says, “It can only happen in one circumstance […] My case was unique, since I had access to the data” (264). It’s a weak argument. It’s true that the precogs turned out to be correct in Anderton’s case; but as he says, his case is unique: that the precogs would happen to make three different predictions such that the predictions demonstrate that the future is determinate rather than indeterminate is wildly implausible, and Anderton is unbelievably lucky it happened to him. Much more likely, in a case like Anderton’s, the precogs would end up with an inaccurate prediction. Anderton insists that you can change your future only if you know what it’s supposed to be, but that’s metaphysical theorizing, and there’s no apparent reason to believe it. The predictions of Anderton’s commission of murder are accurate (in a bizarre way), but their more important implication is that the future is indeterminate, that a prediction doesn’t indicate something that will certainly happen unless the police prevent it. That much was obvious to us readers from the beginning, of course, and Anderton’s ordeal makes the problem painfully clear. But, for Anderton, political necessity trumps personal safety and human rights.

I’m actually not completely sure what I want to say about Minority Report yet, so I’ll end here for now.