The Politics Of Peace In Spielberg’S Minority Report


In the aftermath of 9/11, the horrific loss of lives and destruction prompted the U. S. government to roll out several acts and authorisations that will approve their War on Terror. The topic also inspired numerous films such as pro-war and anti-war films. Minority Report (2002), directly by Steven Spielberg, is loosely adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story of the same name. The film imagines a Washington, D. C (called Columbia in the film) in the year 2054, where three Precogs (psychics), see future murders and a taskforce, Precrime Division, apprehends these would-be murderers. Just before a referendum on whether Precrime Division should go national, the chief of this taskforce, John Anderton, found himself accused of murdering a man he has never met. While Minority Report is neither overtly pro-war or anti-war since it was scripted and filmed before the 9/11 attacks but produced and released less than a year after the attacks, I argue that it instead imagines a world where horrific mass murders like 9/11 would never happen again. In doing so, it wants audiences to question the form of peace to work towards and the price to be paid.

Establishing and Perpetuating Negative Peace

While murder has drastically fallen in Columbia under the Precrime system, Columbia exists in a negative peace. Negative peace is defined as “preventing, stopping or de-escalating armed combat” and by “suppressing opposition to injustice, can work to the advantage of the powerful”. It differs from positive peace in that it does not have the conditions for peace to be realised and maintained, and society is not harmonious (Megoran, 2011). The Columbia in Minority Report echoes many of these definitions.

Murder has been prevented only because premeditated murder can be seen by the Precogs. Murders in the heat of the moment still happens, as can be seen in the opening of the film where a husband attempts to murder his cheating wife upon discovering the affair. In another example, a soft-spoken old man went to a VR parlour asking if he could ‘kill’ his boss there. While homicide rates have fallen (“Within just one month under the Precrime program, the murder rate in the District of Columbia was reduced 90%”), the circumstances that lead people to choose murder as an outlet remains. The conditions for positive peace is still elusive, leading to the pervasiveness of negative peace in Columbia. (Galtung, 1969)

Furthermore, the fear society have of Precogs maintains Columbia’s negative peace. The owner of the VR parlour kneels immediately upon realising the Precog and asks for forgiveness immediately for the “thoughts” he has about his cousins. This instant display of fright and the “uneasy and untrusting truce” that “supresses opposition to injustice”. (Megoran, 2011) emphasises the fear of the people, thus cementing the negative peace in Columbia. In fact, this fear is actively played into. Anderton lost his son in a public pool six years ago before Precrime, which led to his divorce and eventual position in the Precrime Division. The ultimate antagonist told Anderton the following, “When you speak of your absolute belief in Precrime, they know it’s a belief born of pain, not politics. I always understood that. And I may have even encouraged it to help with the cause. ” At the end of the film it was revealed that the antagonist used the Precrime System to get away with murder (ironically). In its parallel in US post 9/11, President George W. Bush actively played into the citizens fears through his countless speeches that establishes an “us” vs “them” binary, thus harvesting political and emotional capital to support controversial acts like the Patriot Act (Graauwmans, 2007). The Patriot Act “grants federal officials greater powers to trace and intercept terrorists’” In fact, as the Patriot Act was being voted in, Democratic Representative of California Barbara Lee was the only one who voted against the act, arguing that the act would grant the President “the authority to wage war in perpetuity. " (Herb, Walsh, 2017). Thus, in both cases, the pain and grief of the remaining families are politicised and used for justification for measures to decrease murders or terrorist attacks, which establishes and maintains a negative peace. Minority Report imagines a world of negative peace where more effort is being used to prevent murders than to realise the conditions for positive peace, and fear is actively politicised and utilised. Through this imagining, it seeks to make US audience question the kind of peace they want for US post 9/11.

Sight and Knowledge

Sight is a recurring theme in the film, with lines like “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. ”, Agatha repeatedly saying, “Can you see?” and a scene where Anderton accidentally drops his original eye balls and so runs after the rolling eyes but only manages to save one from falling into the drain. Sight is one of the many ways we acquire knowledge and in the film it is used to describe how we are both constrained and enlightened by our sight and foreknowledge (Pocock, 1981). In a tour in the background, a tour guide is shown explaining to school children Precogs, “This display is to give you some idea of what their daily life is like” and “Each Precog has their own bedroom, television and weight room. ”

However, the truth could not be any further. Precogs are kept in a pool of liquid drugs that enhances the visions they see. Their hormones are carefully maintained, keeping them not too awake nor too deep in sleep. In fact, Anderton even says “It’s better if you don’t think of them as humans. ”These active efforts to present to the Columbian public another truth stops them from questioning the system and keeps them unaware of the real ambiguity in the Precrime system, such as the existence of minority reports. The Precogs sometimes generate a minority report when they disagree with one another in their visions, which would imply that some of the would-be murderers Precrime Division has arrested may have been innocent after all. If the public knows of the existence of minority reports, the whole Precrime system would lose its value and thus lose its control over Columbia. Thus, the Precrime Division through its control of the information propagated to the public, maintains the negative peace of Columbia. For Anderton’s case, he has no minority reports, that is, he is predicted to kill Leo Crow by all three Precogs. However, the film, through its introduction of such a scenario, reminds the viewers to be discerning of what we are allowed to see. Just as in the billboard located in the background in one of the shopping centre broadcasted "See what others don't," the film wishes its readers to look beyond what we are given and to see if the world we are living and fighting for is negative peace.

The Murky Definitions of Future Murderers and Terrorists

The Precrime system and the US Invasion of Iraq under the War on Terror bear may similarities. Both justified their operations through prediction and ‘intentions’, which is controversial.

When challenged by the representative from the Justice over arresting individuals who have ultimately did not commit their predicted crime because they were arrested before they could, Anderton the system, “The fact that you prevented it from happening doesn’t change the fact that it was going to happen” as well as “The Precogs don’t see what you intend to do, only what you will do. ”. Yet in the US War on Terror, there is no Precogs nor is there any way to “see” intentions. The US justified its invasion and bombing of Iraqi civilians by proclaiming Iraq harbours weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), but many other countries possess them too including the US. (Chosky, Chosky, 2013) To further complicate things, CIA reported Iraq has no WMDs stockpile two years after US and UN officers spent $1 billion to hunt for them. (Borger, 2004) This is especially contentious, because can we act despite what was predicted about us, or in the context of the War on Terror, can intentions never be realised? The film offers an answer: when Anderton realises Leo Crow, the man he was predicted to kill, kidnapped and killed his son six years ago, he fights him immediately like in the prevision. But when Anderton has the gun pointed at Crow, he realises he could not pull the trigger. With trembling hands and a shaking voice, Anderton reads the Miranda rights to him instead and tells Crow repeatedly that he will not kill him.

However, Crow forces the gun on himself and kills himself. Although it still ended in the death of Crow, Anderton was able to rewrite this future slightly, changing from him willingly killing Crow to Crow committing suicide through Anderton. The ability to even alter the previsions then put forth that it is possible for people to not follow through with their intentions no matter how strongly they used to believe in it. So is the Precrime system and the US Invasion of Iraq?To make this argument even murkier, in the first case, the Precognition only showed Howard Marks, discovering his cheating wife in bed with another man and him attempting to kill her with scissors in a fit of anger. When the Precrime officers finally locate Howard through the limited information, what they saw was similar to the precognition. However, the events provoking Howard to kill his wife in a fit of rage and betrayal was only shown to the audience. Howard was first appeared in the film collecting the morning paper just as the newspaper boy threw it in, an act that cannot be any more American suburban life; Howard complaining to his uncaring wife about his many meetings; Howard drowning his sorrows alone in alcohol. Howard was humanised and given a story that allowed the audience to understand what drove him to attempt to kill his wife. But instead of being counselled for this attempt, he was arrested, a very concrete act, because he was predicted to kill someone, a hypothesis, is illogical. The film presented how conditions for positive peace, through counselling dangerous individuals, is disregarded in blind pursuit of the prevention of murder. The film does not seek to answer any of the question it has posited, instead, it wants viewers to question, whether intentions and the predicted future should be sufficient justification for arrests and invasions in the present, and if we are working towards a negative peace instead.

The Price to be Paid for (Negative) Peace

The Director of Precrime proudly proclaims “In the six years we have been conducting our little experiment, there hasn’t been a single murder. ” Yet in the pursuit of this goal, various liberties are forgone. Mass surveillance is the first price to be paid. With the passing legal support for the U. S. War on Terror such as the Patriot Act, there were concerns of a curtailment of civil liberties. Minority Report presents these curtailments: Commuters are eye-dent (iris identification) frequently, even when they board the public subway, and Anderton’s whereabouts were found in such a way too. To hunt for Anderton in the year of 2054, the Precrime officers uses spyders, an intrusive spider-like intelligence device that seeks to identifies all warm bodies in a particular building through eye-dent. In its all-out effort to eye-dent every warm body in the building, the spyders are shown forcibly interrupting many activities, including a couple in the middle of sex and clearly does not want to be eye-dent at that time, and a Mother complaining to uncaring Precrime officers about the spyders scaring her young daughter. In fact, the jail system in the Precrime Division is based on a panopticon, where its “major effect” “[is] induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power”. (Foucault 1975: 201)

Public safety is the second price to be paid. While the destruction of public property is commonplace as per most action films, Spielberg’s Minority Report highlights the intrusiveness and carelessness of it, and the public’s response over it in a world with negative peace. As the Precrime officers try to apprehend Anderton, they smash into several houses, breaking many windows and disturbing families who are having their dinner. The public’s response is expressed most vividly when a mother yells at Precrime Officers to get out of her house, to which they ignore of course. The fight later moves to a car assembly factory where the Anderton and the officers now fight and fire their sonic guns around barrels of chemical solutions. The film thus highlights the hypocrisy of the Precrime system, that in their pursuit of zero murders, infringes on other liberties instead such as privacy and public safety.

Change is in our Hands

The film’s use of incomplete numbers s another recurring theme that symbolises inconclusively and the possibility for change. The events in the film happened in the year 2054, and Anderton’s case number as well as the room number the man he was predicted to kill is 1109. Both the numbers ‘4’ and ‘9’ are just shy of one digit to being half and complete respectively. In the film, upon the revealing of the antagonist use of the Precrime system to murder, the public shock and anger led to the collapse of the Precrime system (unlike in the short story where Anderton sacrifices himself to singlehandedly preserve the Precrime system for the rest of America) further emphasises how the public and the audiences that they have the power to change and choose the kind of peace they want.


Most of the analysis in this essay draws from mis en scene and events that happens in the background, which again emphasise the need to look beyond where the focus is directed. In conclusion, Minority Report is a film that seeks to inform viewers of a world where negative peace is maintained through civil liberties infractions, but change is possible and is in the hands of the viewers.

18 May 2020
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