By Russel D McLean
Please note: major spoilers included for the 2003 movie, Minority Report
Noir is about the absence of hope. It’s about people suffering and rising up against insurmountable odds only to fail due to their own hubris or unimportance. This is is an important distinction to make. Hardboiled, often confused for noir, is about people who experience terrible things and yet emerge triumphant. Hardboiled can be bitter sweet. Noir is always, always bleak.
Last Saturday I made a slightly tongue in cheek remark about how Minority Report was the most noir SF movie ever made, if (and only if) you lop off the last twenty minutes. A few people took me to task on Twitter: “What about Bladerunner?” they asked.
And it’s true: Bladerunner is bleak. Balderunner is noir. But the ending can be taken one of several ways (and depends on which version you watch). Even in the director’s cut, there is a chance – and it’s a small chance – that Rachel and Deckard find one moment of happiness together when they run for it. They have to grasp at something. We, the audience, have an out if we want to believe that there is even a chance of happiness in the world of Blade Runner. (It’s a delusional chance, I should add, but I think it’s there to be read into it if you want to).
In Minority Report, Detective Anderton has been on the run for a crime he did not yet commit. It has been foretold by the Precog division that he will kill a man he doesn’t know. Anderton realises after a long chase from his old colleagues that he has been set up and that someone has been gaming the precognitive system that predicts crimes. He is on the verge of a revelation when his old colleagues catch him and he can’t run. He can’t do anything.
Cut to Anderton being sentenced to what is essentially a living death and a monologue about how in that death he is alone with his thoughts and maybe some of them will be about changing his destiny.
Anderton has been destroyed by a system so much larger than one man. Not just the forces of destiny, but the forces of politics and the attempted restraint of people’s free will by those who believe they know what is best for the population.
Cut to Black.
First time I saw it, I thought that was the end of the movie for about three seconds before I realised that there was another twenty minutes to go during which the bad guy got tripped up and Tom Cruise - - pardon me, Chief Anderton - - was released from this endless waking death prison by his wife, armed with one of Tom’s old eyes which we had assumed had either been confiscated by his old colleagues or lost down a drain (Look, it’s too complex to explain here).
But seriously, I thought, for that moment when I believed it had ended on the Tim Blake Nelson monologue of bleakness, “My God, Speilberg’s got ballsy here!” After all, what had preceded all of this was a breathless chase movie. A brilliant succession of fun set pieces. And some (pretty good, actually – I used it as an example in my MLitt dissertation on free will) toing and froing about free will and pre-destination. And then this idea that even when you do succeed in exercising free will and avoiding the pre-cog’s predictions of your actions, you still wind up paying the price you would have paid for doing it anyway… that’s pretty bleak. That’s very bleak. That means there’s no hope. Nothing.
It’s a kick in the teeth. It’s going to cause debate and anger and a discussion about what it means. And of course it’s never going to work in a summer blockbuster.
Minority Report is not Blade Runner. It was never intended to be. But for those three seconds, to me, it became one of the bleakest SF movies ever. And one of the most interesting.
And then those last twenty minutes came along, and destroyed all of that.
They gave us what we need in a chase film: a resolution and a payback against the forces of evil. A chance to believe that we can rise and fight against corruption, indifference and a world where everything we do is watched, recorded, analysed and predicted.
And if you think I’m getting too involved in the themes of a movie intended to entertain and thrill audiences on a global scale, you should hear my thoughts on the revolutionary undertones and calls for the will of the people to be unshackled in The Toxic Avenger…*
*Please note: this last bit is actually a joke.