The Safest Place There Is

Credit: Tom Edwards
Credit: Tom Edwards

“The safest place there is. . . .”

It’s a dubious, quizzical line, delivered by Lois Smith near the end of her one unforgettable scene as the self-proclaimed mother of Precrime. Dubious because we’re talking about the reliability of the human mind; quizzical because it’s a Philip K. Dick adaptation. But it’s a line, I’d argue, which perfectly describes the experience of revisiting one’s most treasured big-screen story, especially in Blu-ray high definition.

Forgive my sentimentality, but it always feels a bit like coming home.

Let’s talk a bit about my all-time, personal favorite film: Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002). When I was maybe twelve or thirteen years old, I got my hands on the home DVD release of the second Star Wars prequel, Attack of the Clones—and I became obsessed utterly with the notion that I might have a future as a storyteller. Lucas’s six-film epic has throughout my life, again and again, shown me the beauty of grand, mythic worlds and the heroic beings who populate them.

Spielberg’s Minority Report hit me unexpectedly a few months later. I’d missed the film’s theatrical run, having wanted to see it but having neither a car nor driver’s license to get me there. So I used what money I could scrounge together, from mowing lawns and so forth, to buy the DVD.

Which suited me perfectly, since I belong to that rare breed of cinephile who is often content to watch and rewatch the same ten-odd films over and over, studying my favorites in hopes of gleaning some unseen meaning I’d missed earlier—finding new cinematic moments to admire, or new, unanswered questions to ponder.

Minority Report is one of those movies you can’t help but be impressed by the first time you see it.

But as evidenced by the live-tweeting I did, during my most recent viewing of the picture on Blu-ray, it holds up to the test of time like few science-fiction action flicks are capable of.

Its ideas feel fresh despite the age of its Philip K. Dick-penned source material (“The Minority Report,” first published in Fantastic Universe, 1956); the fictional technology presented throughout the film, with the single obvious exception of psychic phenomena, feels wholly real in a near-future context; and the philosophical concerns at the heart of its script are so vital and complex as to be truly timeless.

The film fits Tom Cruise like a tailored suit, in no small part due to the tightness of the script and its Dickian, awe-inspiring implications for the future of law enforcement. In Chief John Anderton we find a haunted man driven constantly by his tragic past even as the legal system he serves propels him toward a single confrontation, with a man he’s never met.

Am I getting ahead of myself? That’s always the problem with precognition; with focusing too much on the future, rather than the present.

The metaphysical, very Dickian hypothetical at the story’s center is that of the Precrime experiment, in which three brain-damaged oracles, born of the underground drug culture, suffer from nightmarish dreams of the future related to murder. Using these Precogs and their capability to predict future murders, law enforcement officers hunt and capture homicide perpetrators before the crime can take place, often—in trademark Spielberg style—with just seconds to spare.

So naturally the District of Columbia Precrime Division’s Police Chief, John Anderton (Cruise), is eventually declared the perp of a “brown-ball” (premeditated) crime, and forced to investigate the possibility that the “perfect system” he has fought for so passionately is, ultimately, fallible.

“But there’s a flaw,” Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell) tells Anderton. “It’s human. It always is.”

And the highly kinetic, emotional ride Spielberg takes us on from that point forward is invariably fun, horrifying, and at turns profound in its scrutiny of guilt and innocence as distinct polarities, teasing out the problems of predetermination in a quantum universe with infinite possible outcomes—but only one we can actually observe for ourselves.

Granted, the film is not without its share of flaws.

Spielberg and his casting director seem to have missed the irony of the title completely, since they give screen time to only two or three minorities, by my count—only one of whom can even be called a “supporting role,” at best, which is something of a stretch.

And let’s not fail to mention the sleek, mechanical spyders, invasive and utterly without the discretion needed for such technology to function in a believable near-future setting. As I mentioned during my live-tweeting of the film, they owe a great debt to The Matrix, and are made quaint by the likelihood that surveillance technology in 2054 will likely rely on lifelike insectoid drones, or flying bird cams.

When the Orwellian eyes of the not-too-distant future begin to hunt, it’s likely their criminal prey won’t even notice them.

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