- a metaphysical look at a sci-fi thriller
by Michael Maciel
This is not a movie review. It is an analysis of the metaphysical symbolism in the movie Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise and Max von Sydow. I'm going to assume that you have seen it, but if you haven't, you might want to see it before reading this, because I'm going to give away the ending.
What is a metaphysical symbol? I'm using the adjective metaphysical because the symbols we're going to be talking about have to do with universal archetypes of the self. An example of a metaphysical symbol, or should I say an every day word that also has a metaphysical meaning, is blood. Blood symbolizes the life of a living being. It was used in the movie Terminator II, Judgement Day to distinguish the good robot from the bad robot. The good robot was sent to protect; the bad robot was sent to kill. The good robot had "heart", the bad robot only cold intellect, which is symbolized by another metaphysical symbol mercury or "quicksilver". This was portrayed as the "liquid metal" that composed the body of the bad robot. Mercury is liquid metal. Remember the box of roses in which the Schwarzenegger character hid his shotgun? Roses are another metaphysical symbol related to both the heart and the life force in its love aspect. His love was to protect the boy, yet another metaphysical symbol, as we shall see in Minority Report.
I'm giving examples of the symbolism in Terminator so that you will know what to expect as we examine Minority Report.
John Anderton, the hero of the story, loses his son to a kidnapper while he is holding his breath underwater at a swimming pool. The pre-cognitives live in a tank filled with water. Water is everywhere in this movie, and it is used as a specific symbol. What does water symbolize? It is an ancient symbol for Universal Mind, what Carl Jung called the "collective unconscious". Deep water is mysterious, holding life forms and powerful, unseen currents. Astrologically, it refers to death and rebirth, the imagination, and the cyclic powers of the moon as they relate to the subconscious. Early Christians used the symbolism of water extensively, as in Jesus' many references to fish and fishing, calling his disciples "fishers of men". The fishhook symbolizes meditation, because it is the tool for drawing life from the waters of the mind. The baptism of John was a rebirth from a second womb, cleansing one's eyes for the beatific vision of Christ.
Letting go is the key to clarity. It is only when we cleanse our heart of the desire to make the world conform to our wishes in the form of cherished illusions that we truly find peace. Or, as Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
In Minority Report, crying represents not only mourning the loss of loved ones, but the deeper loss of the illusions that sustain us in our flight from the truth. John Anderton does not want to permanently lose his son by admitting that he is, in fact, dead. The husband is forced to look at the true state of his marriage, instead of continuing on in living the lie. The clarity we say we are looking for is the last thing we accept, because to accept it is to accept the death of the illusions that hold our "life" together. We will go to great lengths to avoid seeing the impermanance of our "self" and our relationship to other "selves".
The Single Eye
The eyeless drug dealer tells John Anderton that in the world of blindness, it's the one-eyed man who sees, suggesting that it is the inner vision that provides real clarity. Anderton uses drugs ostensibly as a means to escape feeling the sorrow over the loss of his son, which if he allowed himself to feel would bring the clarity he says he's looking for.
Later, John has his eyes replaced to conceal his identity from the retinal scanners that are everywhere. He plans to use his old eyeballs to fool the security systems, but he loses one of them when it rolls down a drain. Even one of his new eyes is blinded when a "spider" lifts his bandage before it has completely healed from the replacement operation. Another reference to the single eye comes subtly when Lamar says, "The eye..." (coughs) "...the eyes of the nation are on us right now."
It is the pairing of eyes and ears in human physiology that enables us to gauge the distance and location of things in the "external" world, the world of the senses. This is accomplished through the stereoscopic and sonar effects of the eyes and ears respectively. By combining two images, one from each eye, that are viewed from slightly different angles due to the distance between the eyes, the brain can interpolate depth in the field of vision. And by calculating the slight difference between the exact moments that a sound wave hits one eardrum before the other, the brain can tell the direction of the source of the sound.
The "single eye", therefore, is the inner vision, the vision that knows what it is seeing. It's taking the raw data of the sensory world and putting it all together. It is understanding, but not intellectual understanding. It is seeing the world as it is, directly, without cognition and without interpretation. Thinking about what we are seeing and interpreting it by comparing it with what we already know only serves to separate us from the object of our perception. It prevents us from joining with it and thereby truly knowing it. To make our eye single is to look from within, to become one with what we are looking at, so that we can know it from the inside out, and not merely by its appearance. This is what differentiates spiritual understanding from intellectual understanding.
You can choose
Free will is the basis of spiritual freedom - freedom from fate. Everyone has the power to choose whether to go down the tracks laid before him or her, or to "choose again", as A Course In Miracles says. John is given the choice to go against the "future" by not killing the man he thinks kidnapped his son.
An action symbol
Jesus said, "Fear not those who kill the body…" There are much worse things than death, namely losing our soul. This is the danger in which the society of Minority Report finds itself - losing the ability to tell the difference between expediency and justice. It prefers to sacrifice the rights of individuals for the sake of social order. In the eyes of God, it would be better for a culture to perish than for it to lose its sense of justice.
Director Steven Spielberg is perhaps drawing our attention to the ever-increasing breaches in our rights of personal liberty, which is taken to its logical extremes in this movie in the form of punishing people for crimes they have not yet committed. It was not that long ago that many of Hollywood's entertainment leaders were blacklisted (punished) solely on the basis of their personal associations and beliefs. Guilt by association is not a democratic ideal. It is immoral and contrary to the legal ethics of a free society.
An idea symbol
The movie uses the sacred as a symbol for the superstitious belief that we can replace God with technology. But metaphysically, it symbolizes the mistake of deifying the future that we "know" is going to happen, to blindly submit to the road that karma lays before us, and to believe that there is no escape from punishment for sin. This is the negation of compassion and the refusal to accept the love of God. The Pharisees asked Jesus, "Who are you to forgive sins?" The Son of God is born in us when we "leave the path of others" and choose our actions from within, rising above the judgement we have placed upon ourselves and others and accepting the freedom that God's love ensures.
John's betrayal by the father figure Lamar symbolizes the failure of the patriarchal nature of the intellectual mind to feel compassion for an individual person. The conscious mind only wants expediency. It cares nothing for matters of the heart. Its sole purpose is to "fix" the world - in the case of the movie, to rid it of the crime of murder. Lamar's self-sacrifice in the end is analogous to Jesus' death on the cross. He "pierces" his own heart with a bullet of gold, the symbol of the sun god, Christ.
Who knows if the screenwriters of Minority Report intended the symbology I have described here. Maybe they did, and maybe they didn't, but the symbols - the objects, the people, the actions, and the ideas - are there. Perhaps they flow from the pen unconsciously, or perhaps they are carefully crafted, woven into the plot as a subtle background to stir the archetypes within our psyches. If so, then I say well done! Movies like Minority Report make movie-going a real pleasure.
The entire movie is based on what the pre-cognitives see. Their caretaker says, "We see what they see." Inside the Pre-Crime control room, eyewitnesses are summoned to view the future evidence. What is the metaphysical meaning of the eye? Jesus said that if our eye is single (John loses one of his old eyeballs) that our whole body would be full of light. We become what we see(k). If we look for unity, we find it. If we look for pairs of opposites, we find them too (two). The pseudo-villain, the cop sent to oversee the Pre-Crime project by the Attorney General, saw evil everywhere pitted against the good. He said about people, "There's always a flaw", and he looked until he found one.