The year is 2054. For the last 6 years, the City of Washington has been free of murder, thanks to a special police branch which uses ‘pre-cogs’ (pre-cognitive) to predict murders and then arrests the would-be perpetrators before they commit the crime: ‘Because of the nature of murder. “There’s nothing more destructive to the metaphysical fabric that binds us than the untimely murder of one human being by another”.’
But when the system accuses the unit’s chief, John Anderton, a chain of events commences leading him to a situation in which he will murder someone he doesn’t know yet, and ultimately question the basis of the system he has believed in for the last 6 years. He has to investigate himself and find out what happened to his life.
In summary, the pre-crime system works like this:
- ‘pre-cogs’ generate visions of future murders and identify the names of the perpertrators and victims; the interface prints the names on wooden balls which are brown, indicating pre-meditated murder, or red, indicating the murder is a crime of passion.
- the visions are recorded and used as evidence for the investigation of the future murder
- the pre-crime unit sorts through the ‘evidence’ to identify the location of the murder
- the pre-crime unit sends a squad to prevent the murder from happening
- the perpetrator of the future murder is arrested, “haloed” and imprisoned
The system is based on two other premises:
- The pre-cogs don’t tell you what you intend to do; they tell you what you will do
- The pre-cogs are never wrong
The 2054 world is also one of pervasive surveillance, by governments and businesses, and it resembles a world not unlike our own when you consider such measures as were introduced post-September 11, to Facebook advertising* which monitors your profile and target ads to your interests. The Pre-Crime system is a natural extension of this all-seeing system; it is in effect a form of ‘thought police’.
Danny Whitwer, the Department of Justice officer auditing the system before it goes national, says the Pre-Crime system is unjust because the perpetrators have broken no laws. But Anderton, rolling a ball across the desk to Danny Whitwer, says pre-determination happens all the time:
John Anderton: Why did you catch the ball?
Danny Whitwer: Because it was going to fall.
John Anderton: But it didn’t fall. You caught it. The fact that you prevented it from happening doesn’t change the fact that it was going to happen.
In the same way, the commission of the murder is pure metaphysics; it’s a done deal. This is an expression of determinism: Given a set of pre-conditions or previous actions, nothing else could happen. So, this is the system John believes in both intellectually, and emotionally, providing John with great significance and meaning, allowing him to prevent heinous crimes like the disappearance of his son, which lead to the breakup of his marriage.
Thus John initially believes he has been set up by those whom he fears may take the system away from him (Whitwer), so as the cop he once was he begins asking questions, seeking out the creator of the system to identify how the system might be exploited. She reveals that yes while the precogs are never wrong, they do sometimes disagree. Only 2 of the 3 precognitives have to agree in order for the case to be pursued. The ‘report’ generated by the 3rd pre-cog in which the perp has an alternative future is the minority report. The implication is of course that people flagged by the system may have alternate futures, futures in which they do not commit murder. However, knowledge of these disagreements would introduce doubt into the system and threaten the public acceptance of the system.
John however does not have a minority report, and so it appears that his path towards committing the first murder in six years is set:
John Anderton: [to Agatha] Everyday for the last six years I’ve thought of only two things. The first is what Sean would look like if he were alive today, if I would recognize him if I saw him on the street, the second is what I would do to the man who took him if I ever found him. You’re right… I’m not being set up.
Agatha: You have to take me home.
John Anderton: No. You said so yourself. There is no minority report, I don’t have an alternate future. I am going to kill this man.
Not because he doesn’t have control, as fatalism would say. But because he has thought of nothing (much) else. Hence Agatha says to him because he knows the future – because he now knows where this path will take him – he can change it, which he does. And the fact that we see Anderton reading this man his rights, rather than killing him, suggests 1) that he has heeded Agatha’s warning about his future, and 2) that he is in some way restored to how he was before the PreCrime. The restoration of the justice system has begun.
Regardless of what one thinks of the ethics and meta-physics of the pre-crime system, I wonder if there might be something in the pre-cog system. I think maybe we’d want to know if we were heading for some disastrous end. The pre-cogs condemn John, alert him to this dangerous path he is on, and call him to turn away. In these basic elements, we see something of how the Gospel operates.
The Bible says people are on a path to destruction, because of the thoughts of their hearts and minds, and the deeds of their hands. God, who knows the hearts and thoughts of men, grieves for them, sees their need, hears their cries, and out of compassion and mercy calls them back to himself, to repent – to turn around and go in a different direction. In Jesus Christ, God offers all of us an alternative future where we need not be ruled by our thoughts and reckless passions.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)
The question of how to reduce crime is one of the ongoing challenges of government, but in many ways, laws only deal with symptoms. Only Jesus promises the real change from the inside that the PreCrime system ultimately wants, so that people go beyond mere obedience to laws to thinking, perhaps predetermining, in their hearts to do good for others.
* Verizon recently filed a patent for a DVR which would monitor activities of persons in the room and target ads to their mood.