GUILTY UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY
An unsympathetic protagonist gets a taste of his own medicine. But fails to learn the right lesson from the nightmare he helped create.
Philip K. Dick
Genre: Science Fiction
Date: 24th March 2005 (First Published 1956)
The Minority Report is a thought-provoking short story with a central premise that is as equally disturbing as it is intriguing. A tale in which the protagonist finds himself being victimised by the system he was instrumental in creating. Yet he somehow manages to remain unwilling to acknowledge the fundamental flaws and unfairness of that system.
The idea of a law enforcement agency being given the authority to, not only, apprehend then indefinitely detain potential criminals before they have committed a crime, but before they’ve even contemplated committing the crime, is disturbing enough. But the fact that this mandate is based on the assumption that a computer can accurately predict the future is absolutely frightening. Yet this is the terrifying reality in Philip K. Dick’s dystopian, alternate reality, where the accused have no defence with which to absolve themselves of guilt.
The Precrime Agency which operates in just such a manner, is the brainchild of the protagonist, John A. Anderton, a New York police commissioner on the verge of retirement. Precrime is the end result of Anderton’s belief that the ramblings of Precog Mutants, mentally retarded people said to have precognitive abilities, can foretell the future. In light of this conviction Anderton developed a system in which three Precogs in a vegetative state are permanently connected to a computer that analyses all the data it receives. This analysis can allegedly predict crimes and identify the perpetrators, up to two weeks in advance, allowing the police to prevent them.
If such a system was to be implemented in the real world people would rightly be horrified and outraged. In this fictional setting however, Anderton is very proud of this system, and has complete faith and confidence in it. And why not? Precrime is deemed to be a major success, having drastically reduced the crime rate. Plus Anderton can point to the fact that there hasn’t been a murder for five years, as proof of its efficacy. However, Anderton never envisioned the day when he would be implicated in a future crime. So imagine his surprise when he reads the most recent report from the computer, predicting that he will commit a murder in a week’s time. The murder of someone he has never met, nor even heard of before.
As is to be expected of a PKD story, The Minority Report, quickly turns into a fast moving roller-coaster ride, with twists and turns aplenty, as Anderton goes on the run to escape the fate that his Precrime Agency has inflicted upon numerous other people. It is a tale that will have you constantly guessing as to what is going to happen next, as it progresses inexorably to its conclusion. An ending that will surprise many, shock some, and if you’re anything like me, will leave you incandescent with rage.
This is one of my all-time favourite short stories, in spite of my absolute disdain for the protagonist. From the outset, John A. Anderton, is not a sympathetic character. Learning immediately that he is responsible for the reprehensible project that is the Precrime Agency, was enough to predispose me to disliking him. But with every turn of the page, and every decision he makes, my antipathy for Anderton just grew and grew.
From the moment his ordeal began, Anderton was unwilling to accept the idea that there is a problem with the Precrime system. His assumption from the beginning was that the murder prediction was a malicious frame up, in order to have him removed from his position. He becomes increasingly paranoid, suspecting both his wife and his potential successor, Ed Witwer, of being behind the conspiracy. Infuriatingly, though convinced of his own innocence, at no point is Anderton able to entertain the possibility that other innocent people have been falsely accused by Precrime. He believes himself to be a uniquely innocent man. This doesn’t change even after he identifies a flaw with the system.
The story actually derives its name from this flaw in the process used to confirm the validity of the system’s predictions. As the three Precog Mutants hooked up to the computer rarely, if ever, make identical predictions, it was decided that it was sufficient for two out of the three Precogs to agree. This would constitute The Majority Report, while the contradictory prediction, The Minority Report, would be dismissed as always being invalid.
This is where my dislike for the protagonist morphed into hatred. After learning that The Minority Report can exonerate him of the predicted murder, Anderton ultimately comes to the realisation that if the existence of The Minority Report becomes public, the Precrime Agency will be shut down. At this point he reaches the conclusion that he has to make a choice between clearing his name, or ensuring the continuation of the system he created. I won’t spoil how this ultimately plays out, but by the end of the story I was livid. PKD certainly didn’t finish his story in the manner that I would have done; fortunately for Mr. Anderton.
All in all, though I hated the ending and the protagonist, The Minority Report, is one of those stories I can’t help but to love. It very much encapsulates many of the things that characterise the works of PKD.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.