Monday, December 30, 2013

Does Minority Report have atheistic overtones?

When it comes to movies, I'm not as hard on Tom Cruise as others are these days. Yes, I think he's a total Scientologist nutjob in real life, but for the most part he's put together some decent movies, even if he runs in everyone of them. I was a moderate fan of Jack Reacher, I thought Cruise was hilarious in Tropic Thunder and his first Mission Impossible was better than average. But my absolute favorite Cruise flick was Minority Report. I am usually a fan of Steven Spielberg, I dig cool special effects and enjoy science fiction, so this movie already had a lot going for it.

My past attempts in analyzing movies that have atheistic views, themes or overtones (Matrix and Wizard of Oz) were pretty straightforward as others either agree with me or take a similar line of thinking. But I don't think anyone has ever looked at M.R. through an unbeliever's eyes. I don't for a second believe this is an atheistic movie, but it's fun to hypothesize, if only for a moment.

A quick recap: The movie takes place in April 2054, in Washington, D.C., where the government has been running a highly controversial police force called PreCrime. Cruise plays Capt. John Anderton, who basically leads the PreCrime team when making arrests. This system uses "visions" of three "precogs," who are mutated humans with precognitive abilities. They can see crime (murders in particular) before it happens, submitting the names of the individuals who theoretically will commit these crimes.

The success is overwhelming (no murders in six years), but before PreCrime can be taken to a national level, it must be audited by Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), a member of the United States Justice Department. A Minority Report, which is a vision where all three precogs don't agree, gets discarded somewhat innocently, but this vision is the rub of the film, and Cruise gets himself set up and becomes a victim of the system he so strongly supported.

Immediately, anyone can recognize the free will vs. determinism theme of this movie. Theologians and philosophers have wrestled with this very subject for centuries. Do we have free will or are our actions predetermined by some cosmic force or deity's Master Plan? If precogs could exist, and they could accurately predict the future, then we wouldn't have free will, as they would be tapping into some higher power blueprints or script. And of course PreCrime equates to "Thought Crime," as Christopher Hitchens so eloquently used to put it when discussing his disdain for Christianity and its all-knowing god.

The three precogs in Minority Report bring to mind the Christian trinity, with Agatha being Yahweh, if you will, since she is the "leader" and her predictions are always correct. But near the end, she (and the system) is manipulated with implanted memories and staged murders. It raises the question: If someone knows their fate, will they automatically live that life, regardless of how improbable or vile it may be? This recalls the Old Testament "prophesies" ultimately being self-fulfilled by Jesus and those around him. The people of the New Testament so wanted Jesus to be the messiah that they made up incredible tales and journeys to make sure he was following the OT prophesies. It doesn't make him the Son of God; it means people manipulated his life and forced the prophesies to come true. If I say, "At 6 p.m. I am going to the movies," and then when 6 p.m. rolls around and I actually go to the movies, it's not amazing; it's self-fulfilling.

In the future setting of M.R., just about all technology is driven by the human retina through society's optical recognition system. Advertising, commerce and even GPS systems get their information by scanning the retinas of people, whether in the street, in malls or on mass transportation. Once Cruise becomes a PreCrime fugitive, he hires a questionable surgeon to swap out his eyes so the PreCrime unit can't detect his location. The atheist can enjoy this storyline as seeing the world through a different set of eyes, not unlike the once-believers who finally see the world through the eyes of reason with critical thinking and rationality. It's while using these eyes Anderton does his investigating and realizes the PreCrime system has its flaws.

Witmer (Farrell) plays one of the antagonists, and his role is particularly interesting. Witmer spent three years in divinity school and carries a rosary wherever he goes, even carrying it while performing hand-to-hand combat. He serves as the higher-power believer, the one who is dubious of anything that is supernatural that isn't divine. He pursues Anderton with all the vigor of a Christian eager to convert an unbeliever. At the end of the movie, Anderton's boss surfaces as the villain, and foils his own legacy and PreCrime existence by killing himself, choosing a path separate from what the precogs predicted.

This movie isn't about atheism, but it does have its moments. While not trying to, it points out the problem in having a deity with a Master Plan and eternal punishment tied into that plan. An omniscient god that has set everything up as a preordained story can't claim his "children" have free will; that is a contradiction in terms. If this deity (or in the Minority Report a precog) knows what you will do before you do it, then how can you have the free will to choose your path?

And in the movie, if you know your path before you walk it, you can change it, proving we have free will and should never be punished for something we never did. Just like in real life. If an omniscient god sets up a plan for us and we follow his plan, how can he condemn the players of his act to eternal hellfire for doing what they were supposed to do?

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