It’s a new week, and I’m off work again, so to get the celebrations started, I thought I’d ramble a bit about a short story I read last night, The Minority Report, by Philip K Dick.
I first read this story back in 2002, when the Spielberg film came out and it looked really exciting in the trailers. I’ve got to admit, I did actually enjoy the film when I saw it, as it was a nice futuristic piece and whatnot. But then I read the short story on which it was based, and I suddenly lost a lot of my earlier admiration. See, while the film is a good piece of cinema, with lots of action and lots of intrigue, the story has got so much more depth, it has so much more subtext, it generally succeeds at telling its story much better than the film, which appears mainly to entertain.
The story follows Commissioner John Anderton, the head of the PreCrime Agency in New York at some nebulous future date, as he appears to have been framed for a crime he has not yet committed. PreCrime uses the abilities of three mutants that can see into the future to predict when crimes will be committed and apprehend the would-be criminals before any violent act. Anderton’s own name comes up as the perpetrator of the murder of a man he doesn’t know, the day his eventual replacement at the Agency starts, Ed Witwer. Anderton, an aging cop, tries to escape the net he knows will close around him once he is suspected of a future murder, but is picked up by agents of the man he is said to be plotting to kill, a retired Army general named Leopold Kaplan. It eventually surfaces that Anderton is being framed, but not by Witwer, who he assumed to be after his job and his young wife. After years of peace, the Army has been sidelined by the Police, especially the PreCrime Agency, so Kaplan intends to discredit the agency by using his agents to keep Anderton safe and, when the ex-Commissioner fails to kill Kaplan, prove the flaw of the system.
However, the basic premise of the Agency is called into question when the mechanics are scrutinized. The three mutant precogs never agree perfectly on how the future crime will take place, but a majority report is generated out of the three reports, with a minority report being rejected as false. Anderton discovers that the minority report was generated slightly after the earlier reports, and stated that Anderton, with the knowledge of his name on the majority report, decided not to commit the crime. His vindication is short-lived, however, when he realises he has been manipulated by the Army, and on further examination of the other two reports, it transpires that all three were, in effect, minority reports. At an Army rally against the PreCrime Agency, where Kaplan, now armed with the three reports, Anderton decides he must uphold the system rather than worry about his personal welfare, and so kills Kaplan. Witwer, now Commissioner of PreCrime, commutes his life sentence to exile to an outlying planet, and in the closing pages it is revealed that, while the first report determined Anderton would kill Kaplan, and the second decreed that he would not after receiving that foreknowledge, the third report was based on the earlier two, and prophesied that Anderton would indeed kill Kaplan in order to preserve the integrity of the PreCrime system. His parting words to Witwer warn that this situation can only ever happen again to the Commissioner of PreCrime.
It’s a really fascinating read! The sort of wheels-within-wheels philosophy of free will, and whether you would choose to carry out a deed if you thought it was preordained is called into question throughout the thirty-or-so pages. The justice system that bases itself on the notion of PreCrime – imprisoning effectively innocent people – is also a nice moral issue.
The precogs themselves raised some interesting questions for me, too. Described as “idiots” and said to be babbling nonsense, which is only converted into reports of premeditated crimes after computer analysis, it raised the question – does it really work? Or is it really just nonsense? The notion of a government investing heavily in a system that is fundamentally flawed is of course raised, but becomes much more interesting if that system isn’t just flawed, but is actually plain wrong, is irresistible!
The movie differs significantly from the story, even on small points, so as to almost exist as a separate entity in itself. As such, I feel it is possible to appreciate both. Unfortunately, however, the sense of depth provided by the state of animosity that developed between the Police and the Army is completely absent from the film, which uses an altogether different scheme for the events that follow Anderton on the run. But anyway.
As the picture above shows, I have two volumes of Dick’s short stories, as well as the famous Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, so you can prepare for more as the weeks roll on, I’m sure!!