John and Lara Anderton are a young married couple whose son has disappeared. ‘Disappeared’ in other words ceased to be. From one day to another without leaving a trace. The little boy Sean has disappeared. Out of the blue. In the midst of the most absurd triviality.
He is not dead, but nobody has heard of him for six years –nothing is known about his life. After a presumed search, as long as it is unfruitful, uncertainty is perpetuated. The child’s parents will know then the abyss so many Argentine families have had to confront. How does one get on with life after a loss of this magnitude?
Both are drained. Lara caught up in a melancholy that knows no limits, isolated in a country house, cannot even go back to be with her husband. Guilt –under the always unfair guise of unspoken words of reproach- prevents her from seeing him again. The memory of her son bars her from being with her husband. John and Sean blend into one and the shadow of the child annuls her as a woman. (the identity of the names plays a dirty trick on her.. In the Jewish religion, a son cannot be baptized with the name of a live relative).
As counterpart to his wife’s depression, John Anderton has found a manic cause, a reason to be. Promoted to the rank of Detective he leads an ambitious police project destined to eradicate murder by arresting the would be perpetrators before they commit their crimes. The protagonist’s obsession for efficiency results in an obvious reparation formula for his own negligence in the disappearance of his son.
But intervening in advance in order to prevent other crimes, does not eliminate his anxiety, on the contrary it makes him sink deeper and deeper into it. The character is made a prisoner of repetition. During the day, riding on an adrenalin high, during the night under the influence of tranquilizers and heavy drugs. Instead of bereavement and acceptance of death, he lives his life permanently evoking the lost woman and child.
On the surface, the character does not show any signs of breaking down. The maelstrom of police work demands constant decision-taking. Some of these decisions are mere algorithms and accompany the logic of the computers, which he uses to help him. We shall call this first type of decision (1) ‘option’.
Others are more complex and demand the pondering of different factors. Although the scene of the crime is provided by the visions of the precognition experts, the organization of the dispersed elements is entirely in the hands of the detective. He also has to deal with an unexpected piece of information, which turns up as the story unfolds: the minority report. The precogs are never wrong but they sometimes have differing opinions. Much in the manner of a tribunal composed of three judges, the verdicts are not always unanimous. On occasions, one of the precognition experts is left in minority. This will mean a new challenge for detective John Anderton, especially when he discovers that the totalitarian logic has suppressed these minority reports to make the system more credible.
An interesting detail is the fact that the minority verdict handed down is always feminine. Two members of the jury are men but the other is a woman, Agatha, and it is she that always stands for the difference. It is a predictable allegation on the importance of minority groups –in this case in feminist mode- in tone with a country whose identity is more and more the result of a melting pot of differences.
This varied scenario of decisions, in which dispersed elements and hostile, opposite perspectives constitute a second group of decisions, that we shall call, always following Lewkowicz; “choice”. The protagonist successfully deals with this situation too.
But the story takes an unexpected turn. A new seizure shakes Agatha’s body. The precogs have a new vision. This time they anticipate a crime in which the perpetrator is none other than the detective himself. Spurred by anticipatory logic, John Anderton will have to grapple with his own anticipated sentence. Resigned to his fate, he goes to meet his victim, but still holds on to the hope that a minority report might offer him the chance to escape destiny.
But once at the scene of the crime the order of need shows itself as irreversible.
There is no minority report for his case and as if this were not enough, the predetermined victim turns out to be a monster. Many times we have asked what parents of the missing would do if found face to face with the victimizers of their children. Unexpectedly Spielberg’s film places us in a quandary. The criminal with impunity admits to having been particularly cruel with the little boy. What to do with a son’s murderer? John Anderton has no doubts. He has waited six years for this moment and he know what he has to do. He aims, determined to do justice. But at the crucial moment, when the hour hand falls on the temporal horizon required for decision-making, he desists in his intention.
At this point the manifest reasons are of no importance. It does not matter whether he does it because he is a good detective or because he follows the prudent advice of a talented woman. What does interest us is to know that he had already decided to commit the crime, he was going to shoot. But he does not. Stopping himself at the very last moment he becomes open to the unforeseeable. By doing this John unknowingly causes a breach in time and receives a comment from his victim. A revelation that could not have been foreseen. Because they are not words that could have been said before, they are words that are said then, they are an invention of that pause.
Those words that the subject demands of the Other, decree, with the sweep of the hand, the futility and uselessness of his intention. And it is not so much a reference to his vengeful/preventive police enterprise but that of his whole existence. But it is in that instant that the protagonist made time. Time to understand.
In that pause, the subject decided, without his knowing so, to put an end to a series of repetitions. He goes of in search of his wife and for the first time is able to speak about the ‘lost’ son. They are able to cry together and tell each other how much they missed him. They are able to evoke and imagine a child beyond the trauma.
This decision justifies the whole film and makes it worthwhile. The subject decided to go out in search of a different destiny. Not going back in time to stop the impossible, but searching in the future of a new child.
Spielberg’s story rescues itself. It suggests a possible road for bereavement and mourning of a loved one who has gone ‘missing’. Neither manic revenge nor paralyzing depression. A cause. But what the film teaches is that a true political cause, one that changes the course of history, is the result of one person’s. Not merely the correct option or the adequate choice. A real decision.
Inspired by Philippe Dick’s short story, Minority Report is a philosophical work on the concepts of necessity and chance. And a lesson about how the question of decision settles between them. For thematic as well as methodological reasons, we emphatically recommend this film as a source for contemporary bioethics.