Minority Report — When the Story World Becomes The Villain
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Minority Report — When the Story World Becomes The Villain

August 16, 2019

Hi, I’m Michael. This is Lessons From The Screenplay. Phillip K. Dick is well known for inspiring some of the greatest story worlds ever put on screen, and Minority Report is no exception. A radical, stunning vision of the future, Minority Report’s world design continues
to influence science fiction to this day. But the design of the technology isn’t the
most important part of the story world. When screenwriter Scott Frank was brought
onto the project, director Steven Spielberg told him to ignore
the tech and instead focus on the story itself. “The first thing that Steven said to me
is ‘write this like it’s happening today. If somebody answers a phone, they answer the phone. Don’t describe the phone. If they get in a car, they get in a car. For the moment, let’s just think about the
story.’ Which was a huge relief to me. It made it much easier to think about things.” The concept of Precrime— arresting people before they’ve actually
committed a murder— is the important part of Minority Report’s
story world; the futuristic cars, jetpacks, and illogically
transparent screens are just cool. So today I want to compare three versions
of this story— Philip K. Dick’s original short story from
1956, Jon Cohen’s 1997 script, and Scott Frank’s final script— to explore how each tries to establish the
philosophy of the story world… To look at how they attempt to persuade the
audience to believe in the system of Precrime… And examine how the story world itself becomes
the antagonist of the story. Let’s take a look at Minority Report. One of the most challenging aspects of screenwriting
is providing exposition— defining the characters, history, and world
of a story in a way that feels organic. Minority Report weaves in exposition about
Precrime in several environmental ways, from showing advertisements being broadcast
in the city… “On Tuesday, April 22, vote Yes on the National Precrime
Initiative.” …to overhearing a tour being given to students. “Well, the precogs have such a powerful
gift they have to be kept in peaceful seclusion so as to not be distracted from the outside world.” But there’s so much to explain that the
film has to rely heavily on one of the most frequently-used and effective exposition devices: Introducing a character who is as clueless
about the story world as the audience. In Minority Report, this character is Danny
Witwer. Witwer serves as a kind of audience surrogate, and as he learns how Precrime works, so do we. “The commission of the crime itself is absolute
metaphysics. The precogs see the future and they are never
wrong.” The problem with this technique, however, is that it’s often not very dramatic. If one character’s desire in a scene is
to gain information, and the other’s is to give it, there are no obstacles. No obstacles, no conflict, no drama. In his book Into The Woods, John Yorke writes: “All good exposition is disguised by making
it dramatic – by injecting conflict. Desire, in story structure, should always
be countered by an opposite desire, and this in turn creates the conflict drama
needs.” In Philip K. Dick’s original story, the character of Witwer is used to convey
exposition, but with very little conflict. In Jon Cohen’s 1997 script, Witwer is the partner and best friend of Anderton— or “Anderson” as he’s called in this
draft. So while Witwer provides some conflict in
challenging Anderson’s beliefs, their interactions can still feel forced. But in Scott Frank’s final script, the character of Danny Witwer is cleverly
used both to convey exposition and inject conflict into the story, because he’s Anderton’s opponent. Witwer is a Department of Justice agent sent
to audit Precrime before it’s adopted as a nationwide practice. So Witwer is looking for flaws, “It’s not the future if you stop it. Isn’t that a fundamental paradox?” which results in Anderton having to not just
explain precrime, but to defend it. ANDERTON: Why did you catch that? WITWER: Because it was going to fall. ANDERTON: You’re certain?
WITWER: Yeah. ANDERTON: But it didn’t fall. You caught it. ANDERTON: The fact that you prevented it from
happening doesn’t change the fact that it was going
to happen. Forcing Anderton to actively defend Precrime
is important, because in Minority Report, the audience has
to do more than simply understand the world. The audience must buy into the world. The concept of arresting people before they’ve
committed a crime relies on the idea that the future is predetermined
and that there is no free will. This is a philosophy that is contrary to what
many people believe, so the filmmakers must help the audience suspend
their disbelief and embrace the laws of the story world. The first way Minority Report achieves this is by showing us the prevention of a murder
which we can confidently agree was going to take place. Showing precrime at its best helps the audience
understand and believe in its value. “I’m placing you under arrest for the
future murder of Sarah Marks and Donald Dubin that was to take place today, April 22nd,
at 0804.” But Minority Report also creates an emotional
connection to the story world. Screenwriter Scott Frank did this by giving
Anderton a personal reason to believe in it. Saying, “The main character had to be running from
something or acting out some personal problem for it
to really work. So, what if Anderton was a policeman before
Precrime and experienced the loss of his own child
right in front of him. I thought that anger and guilt would lead
to a denial for the character in terms of what he was doing, and that might give him some real motivation
and make things interesting.” “Sean?!” In both the original story and Jon Cohen’s
script, Anderton is the founder and director of precrime. Therefore, his belief in the system is self-evident
and never explained in depth, so the audience is asked to accept the system
but doesn’t connect with it emotionally. But by giving Anderton a tragic backstory— one he believes could have been avoided had precrime existed at the time of his son’s disappearance— the audience is compelled to feel empathy
for Anderton and see the merit of the story world’s philosophy. At least for a while. “Goodbye, Crow.” “Anderton, wait!” When Anderton discovers that he has been convicted
of a future murder, his beliefs get turned upside down, and the story world becomes the antagonist. There are two central opponent characters
in Minority Report. Witwer, who eventually comes to believe Anderton, and Lamar Burgess—founder of Precrime. But Anderton’s desire is much greater than
simply stopping these “bad guys.” In the second act of the story, Anderton learns
that the precogs— the “gifted” humans who can see the future— aren’t always in agreement. IRIS: Most of the time, all three Precognitives
will see an event in the same way. But once in a while, one of them will see
things differently than the other two. ANDERTON: Are you saying I’ve haloed innocent
people? IRIS: I’m saying every so often those accused of a precrime might—just might—have an alternate future. As director Steven Spielberg says: “If one of the precogs dissents and casts
a dissenting vote, then it can’t be a perfect system, and there
must be something wrong with it, and it’s something so wrong, that the system would not be allowed to exist
in our nation.” And so Anderton’s desire becomes clear: dismantle precrime. In every version of the story the resolution
is centered around the fate of the precrime system itself. In Philip K. Dick’s original story, Anderton recognizes the flaw in precrime, but he takes action to make sure the system
actually prevails— or as screenwriter Scott Frank charmingly
puts it: “In the end of Dick’s story, the hero sacrifices himself for this completely
fascist system of law enforcement. He’s set up by some guy in the army you
don’t know or even care about for reasons that aren’t at all clear. Then it ends.” The system of precrime lives on. In Jon Cohen’s script, Witwer wants Anderson to kill him in order
to prove precrime works, but Anderson makes every effort not to follow
through. But when Witwer takes one of the male precogs
and tries to kill him, Anderson has no choice but to shoot. In this version of the story, the fate of
Precrime is unclear. Interestingly, the concept of minority reports
is never even mentioned, so Cohen never makes a decision about the
state of free will. Scott Frank’s final script finds a balance
between these concepts. In his final moments, Burgess— who the precrime unit sees murdering Anderton— takes his own life. That fact that he chose not to murder Anderton, as was foreseen by the precrime system, shows that there is indeed free will in this
story world. So while Burgess is the main opponent for
Anderton, his demise alone doesn’t solve the greater
problem. It’s not until we see the dissolution of
the story world as precrime is dismantled that we can feel the story has truly been
resolved. Minority Report is a great example of how
the world of the story can be more than just a fun or interesting
setting. It demonstrates how creating characters with
opposing views on the world’s philosophy can help elegantly convey exposition and persuade
the audience to buy into the world’s systems… And it shows how the story world itself can
be the primary source of conflict, so that by the end we only feel satisfied
when Anderton brings down the system with the help of a minority report. A lot of the technology and concepts predicted
in Minority Report have come true— and then some. “Get away, John Anderton. Forget your troubles.” There’s a documentary that looks at Philip
K. Dick’s works and their film adaptations to explore the ways his visions of the future
have come true. It’s called “The World’s of Philip K Dick,” and it’s one of the many great documentaries
available on CuriosityStream. CuriosityStream is a subscription streaming
service made for people who love to learn. They have over 2,400 documentaries and nonfictions
titles from some of the world’s best filmmakers, including exclusive originals. Get unlimited access starting at just $2.99
a month, and you can get the first 31-days completely
free if you sign up at curiositystream.com/LFTS and use the promo code L-F-T-S during the
sign-up process. Thanks to CuriosityStream for sponsoring this
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  1. The issue I had was why don't they just attempt to stop the person and then maybe put them into therapy instead of putting them in prison for something they haven't done yet. Especially in the case of a crime of passion as shown in the intro. =/

  2. If you think about it, there could be many false arrests in this system, not just the minority reports. There’s only three of them. And two are twins who they establish are always in agreement. What if they had more pre-cogs? What if they had a panel of, idk, 9 genetically distinct pre-cogs? Would the minority reports come up at the same rate? Would three of them consistently dissent?

  3. In Dick’s original, the precogs work differently, the flaw of the movie doesn’t exist, it’s much more involved. Why didn’t you mention this?

    The 2nd precog sees Anderson’s future following his reaction to learning about the first precognition. The 3rd precog then sees the future after his reaction to the second.

    My interpretation, rather than a fascist state, this could actually lead to a more perfect and humane system where people are not immediately locked up. This may also have been Dick’s conclusion but it’s been a while since I read it.

  4. They didn’t need to dismantle the project. Just change the way the dealt with issue. Have the person monitored and stopped in the act rather than before. Or, just tell the person, we know you are planning something and they won’t do it.

  5. Clicks this video, realises I haven’t seen Minority Report, stops watching this video, watches Minority Report, then comes back to this video

  6. Re: the delivery of exposition while NOT being devoid of drama, I think that Mad Max Fury Road would be a superb movie to do a video essay on.

    Plus… MMFR is friggin awesome. And LFTS is friggin awesome. And I checked to see if you had covered MMFR before and I didn't see it. But my literacy success rate is variable.

  7. damn it youtube hasn't been showing me your videos for months.

    I added you to the notifications list.

    awesome video btw

  8. I never really thought free will was a concept that took precedent in Minority Report. I thought it was more about how illogical it is to put faith in a human system, because we as human beings aren't perfect. So it was fate for John to not pull the trigger, because it was meant to show that PreCrime was a flawed system. And Lamarr was meant to shoot himself. It was all adding up to a better future through the drama.

    P.S. great video! I was about to watch this movie too. Crazy how you posted this at that exact moment.

  9. I wanted to say before I watch this vid,
    your content has helped me amazingly, both in my English assignment and knowledge of Narrative and storytelling! It's interesting, informative and concise. The Channel deserves 10X the amount you have at the moment. Keep pushing with the same quality and you'll get there in no time.

  10. Do I hear the melody from Korn's "Falling Away From Me" in the music here lol? Still great material though

  11. The show Person of Interest was an awesome adaptation where an AI is developed to monitor the mass surveillance state. I can imagine this vehicle could be used as a link between Robocop, The Terminator series and the Matrix.

  12. What about the lack of consent given by the pre-cogs? In the film the female pre-cog is clearly traumatised after being released. Did the book go into whether the pre-crime unit was effectively abusing them or not?

  13. Okay but hear me out could precrime also be used as a way to prevent suicides and let people with mental illness get help before it’s too late

  14. Hi michael! Loved the video!! My question is unrelated to the video but I was curious, have you watched dark (Netflix)? I was really interested in your opinion!!
    I’m a huge fan of your work!!! Congrats and much appreciation from Brazil!

  15. Well we're already pretty much living in Orwell's 1984 mixed with Huxley's Brave New World, so why not go for the dystopian trifecta and start arresting people before they do anything wrong?

  16. Great video! I always look forward to your explanations. It would be nice if you could watch Predestination. It has similar premise to Minority Report but provides an even bigger and ambiguous questions about time paradoxes and predetermined choices. You should totally check it out. :))

  17. Somebody need to make GOOD game of this concept of precrime and thoughtcrime of this

    And this is one like i concept more theose the project

  18. Would be nice if you could do a lesson or two from Doubt (2008), Notes On A Scandal (2007), The Favourite (2018) or Zero Dark Thirty (2012) 😀 thanks xx

  19. Could you please make a video on, about time starring Dohmnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams, I feel like there is something really special there

  20. Hi Michael, could you do an analysis of the movie Steve Jobs(2015)? Its full of dialogue, yet very gripping

  21. Hello, LFTS.
    I absolutely love your channel for it has changed my perspective on films. That's why I'd love to see your opinion on one of my favorite films ever: "Capote".
    I just hope this comment doesn't get drowned in oblivion.
    Thanks for the hard work.

  22. Great take on the conflict between characters. Never saw it like this, and that's why it doesn't seem like too much of an expositional movie… thanks!

  23. There is absolutely no way that Frank came up with the missing child arc without input from Spielberg given Spielberg's history of bad dads in his films.

  24. I would love for you to tackle a classic screenplay, like Casablanca, some like it hot, Chinatown.
    Or scripts that feel very real like the before trilogy, the big chill, the end of the tour or my dinner with Andre

  25. I love Philip K. Dick's writing. One of the things he constantly injects (and I believe he's right) is an innate distrust in any organization-corporation, government, activist group-that is given an abundance of power. The idea of "Power corrupts" is very prevalent in his stories.

  26. A lot of the tech from this movie is becoming real, some of it is already being used. They really nailed it.

  27. I always had one question about this movie, tho. Why not just compromise and have no convictions based on precrime, just preventative measures?

  28. It is actually a very poor film. The first time I saw it, it seemed good. It did not stand up to repeated viewings.

    Don't confuse an interesting premise with the execution.

    There's an unsettling morbidity (brutal murder scene over, and over, and over..), over-drama (scream roll around on the bed for ten minutes while Tom slowly beats and kills a man anyone?) , and gross- out factor (eye mutilation, eating rotten food, mucus, deep kissing an old woman for no reason..) throughout this so-called PG film – proving the Hollywood censors are rigged as rigged, did you notice all Matrix films were rated R?.. All of this awkwardly forced into scenes that did no require it, adding pointless forced visceral un-entertainment to heap on top of the countless plot and writing inconsistencies the viewer is already subjected to.

    To add more, the film cannot decide if it is to be taken seriously or lightly, and succeeds at neither.

    Take a step back and watch it critically. You might be surprised what you see.

  29. I find it funny how quaint Minority report seems today since the real world system doesn't even need precognitive persons to anticipate future threats. All the real world needs to establish a precrime system is what we already have: social media, a population conditioned to see living publicly as normal and predictive AI with machine learning capability.

  30. 2:53 Doctor Emmett Brown: "Why is everyone so hung up on exposition in the future? I constantly did it for an entire trilogy."

  31. In Minority Report, Anderton did not take down Precrime by finding his minority report. Indeed, he did not have one. However, knowing his future, he chose to change it (at the urging of Agatha the precog). This proved that the precogs could be wrong about the future as foreknowledge could empower a suspect to made a different choice. More so, the way Burgess could manipulate the system to frame people for murders he put into motion proved that the precogs could only witness the act and not the actor behind the crime.

  32. The gaping hole I never understood about this story, was the idea that if pre-crime could not be seen to work 100% of the time it should not be used at all for fear of punishing the innocent.
    Sure that makes a sense….but why not keep pre-crime running….but just remove the punishment element of the system?

    so you still get to intervene and potentially save lives… but no one ends up sleeping there life away for a crime they didn't actual get round to committing.

  33. Minority Report is one of my favorite Spielberg films for sure. Tom Cruise and Colin Farrell were like the perfect adversarial combo. I think Colin Farrell is very underrated, Hes been knocking his recent roles out of the park. One of my favorite scenes is the super minor moment when Witwer corners Anderton in the elevator.

  34. The precogs knew Burgess was going to kill himself; they lied about it so they'd be set free.

    We saw that the precogs had abilities way beyond predicting murders… I like to think they set up John Anderton and caused all the events of the movie.

  35. I absolutely love this movie. Despite some massive problems with the story, it just gets so many things right. The setting is interesting, world building is sublime.

  36. The world already is the villain. Especially globalists, central banks, and other institutions that hellbent on the conquest of humans, which are probably inhabited mostly by psychopaths.

  37. Very pleased with this video! Thanks so much for the effort you put into it and for sharing this with the rest of us. SUBSCRIBED!

  38. 3:57 (movie scene) It is a bad argument to push, based on an inanimate object.
    Humans make choices to commit or lead to crimes.
    Inanimate objects subjected to physics do NOT make choices.

    If we ever passed laws based on predictability, then we might as well kill everyone, to prevent any crime that would inevitably happen.

  39. What about the theory that when tom cruise is put into the mind jail that the rest of the movie is actually him visualizing the convenient conclusion in his mental prison oblivious that it's not real.

  40. One think I noticed about Colin Farrell's character in Minority Report is that he is chewing gum in every scene apart from his last scene. Always thought this was a great way of getting the audience to take a dislike to him.

  41. The precogs being wrong only demonstrates that they can be wrong, not that free will exists.
    Free Will is complete nonsense, there isn't a single good defense for believing in it. Its a psuespiritual idea with zero basis in reality. Everything we know about the brain makes it apparent that there really is no place in the brain where you exist. The sense of "me" or "I" is a kind of epiphonema, everything you do that you care about was worked out before that sense of "I" was aware of any of it. The very identity that makes you ,-you- , wasn't chosen and doesn't itself make choices.

  42. I've read a good deal of Dick's novels and short stories and I think he is misrepresented here. He was not a ''hardwear'' character, machinery was just used to move the story along. It was only when Hollywood realised his work was still valid (and that took some time) that the likes of Los Angeles 2019 and all the other paraphernalia was introduced to attract an audience that otherwise might not have existed. If Philip K. Dick had lived longer then he would have become a very wealthy man through Blade Runner etc. Compared to his income from his writing, the source of these movies, and you see a tragic story. I'm not saying he died a paupers death, but he wasn't driving round in Ferraris either.

  43. Pre crime is a thing but predeterming the outcome of an investigation without even properly investigating is actually a crime itself.

  44. I found the story in the movie to be very unsatisfying. Tying things together neatly does not equal doing the subject justice.

  45. Wait, but… couldn’t they have still used the system to help intervene and prevent murders? I mean, you don’t have to make arrests, but I feel like that’s a bonus either way.

  46. Of course the missing/dead child is named Sean. They always are. Probably because it's so full of vowels and easy to scream.

  47. Again! A movie I haven't thought about for years until today. Then it suddenly pops up in my recommendations. Why is this happening?

  48. Without the prediction Anderton would not have run away and looked for his minority report. So the prediction itself sets things in motion and eventually precogs gain their freedom. At least in the end they are living in a cabin rather floating in pool. So we can suggest that Agatha planned the whole story and she gained her freedom and got her mother's revenge also.

    The free will part is just an illusion

  49. Writers and creators dream up the science, the scientists and engineers dream up a way to make reality. There is no limit to what we can accomplish.

  50. The universal message of Minority Report is a great one – a group of people will defend anything if it is successful for them. Anderton only questions the system when it turns on him. Channels Roald Dahl’s, “The matter with human beans is that they is absolutely refusing to believe anything until it is in front of their own schnozzles.”

  51. Heres my problem with this channel. You always, always compare the subject matter to a pre-existing piece of material. Like, if film-makers applied your lessons, then wouldn't every movie be the same, just with different characters? Same basic story arc, same character niches, just the same basic structure? Isn't it better to just watch a film, and take it as it is, as a single unit?

  52. Free will = the freedoom of will 2 choose If choosing empowers you & they say power is only an ilusion then anything you choose has an blind infliction in your life
    U think u have chosen wisely in life but the truth is… anything u choose to do/make/act has the same ending as the other choices u dropped in favor for the one you took/take!!

  53. Regarding predetermined futures, if true then why get out of bed?
    Our Minority Report system will arrive in many independent small mildly objectionable steps sourcing from many points. How much are we autonomously surveyed for information? Facebook gathering facial recognition data. Google tracking our steps, visits, purchases, inquiries, and conversations via phone. How many have heard of predictive policing? Our Minority Report won't be announced, it will already be here. It will not depend on mortal biological freaks, but machine learning algorithms that can be copied a million times. You know, the kind that can become an unbeatable chessmaster in four hours.

  54. Hi, could you take a look at 'Magnolia' please? It's one of my favourite films and Tom Cruise's performance in this is just sublime. There are too many fantastic scenes to choose from, but the one where Julianne Moore is in the pharmacist is extraordinarily good.

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