Wednesday, August 14, 2002
‘What happened to our sense of wonder?’ mumbles Van Morrison in his song ‘On Hyndford Street’, and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report answers that question with a degree of pain and pessimism we’ve not seen from him before.
Spielberg was famously the Peter Pan of Hollywood, his films warmed by the sense that life could be wonderful if we just held on to our child-like innocence and enthusiasm.
From ET to Jurassic Park, the grown-ups were responsible for all the bad things, but the kids were all right. And that gave us hope.
But his last two films show us a very adult world in which the kids are missing and parents bereft. In AI, the cyborg child fills the vacuum left by a child being in a coma, and in Minority Report, protagonist John Anderton is tortured by the abduction of his son.
To lose a child is to lose hope in the future. Earlier Spielberg suggested that people were basically good and things would work out fine. The latest films show us what the future looks like and it’s no place for the children.
Minority Report has a thick vein of unease and pessimism running through it. Despite the shiny advertising images and the impressive architecture, real life is seedy and decaying, even if on the surface things seem to be improving.
Murders have all but ceased since ‘pre-cogs’ with the ability to see the future allow people to be arrested before they commit crimes. But there are bitter undertones to this – the pre-cogs doing this ‘previsioning’ are as imprisoned as the criminals they catch, and someone’s trying to get away with murder to ensure the success of the program.
And there are small touches that make you cringe – the fetid sandwich in the fridge, the jarringly sexual kiss Dr Hineman gives Anderton in her conservatory.
Is this our fate? Seen through the eyes of the pre-cogs, people have no choice but to commit murder, and the police know that even when surrounded, ‘everybody runs’. It’s a world in which children are taken, cuckolded husbands murder their wives, and even when you try and improve things, you end up hurting people.
Colin Farrell, playing a fed who trained to be a priest, is most comfortable with this notion of original sin – he knows the pre-crime program is faulty because even though the system is perfect, there are imperfect humans running it.
So amid the peerless effects and action sequences is a noir-ish movie of ideas. Schindler’s List was grim but hopeful, and it was tempting to ascribe the misanthropic elements in AI to Kubrick, but Minority Report shows that Spielberg has finally grown up. And lost his sense of wonder.