Minority Report (2002) The year is 2054 and the place is Washington, D.C. John Anderton (played by Tom Cruise) is a police officer who uses the latest technologies to apprehend murderers before they commit their crimes. This remarkable feat is possible because scientists have nearly perfected the use of “Pre- Cogs” -- or so, at least, it seems. The Pre-Cog system consists of three psychics whose brains are wired together and who are kept sedated so they can develop a collective vision about impending murders. Together with powerful computers, the Pre-Cogs are apparently helping to create a crime free society. All is well until one of the psychics’ visions shows Anderton himself murdering a stranger in less than 36 hours. Suddenly, Anderton is on the run from his own men. Desperate to figure out if the Pre-Cog system is somehow mistaken, he breaks into it, unwires one of the psychics, and discovers that they do not always agree about what the future will bring. Sometimes there is a “minority report.” Sometimes the minority report is correct. Sometimes people are arrested even though they would never have broken the law. The authorities have concealed this system flaw and allowed the arrest of potentially innocent people in their zeal to create a world free of crime. And so Anderton comes to realize that not everything is predetermined -- that, in his words, “it’s not the future if you stop it.” And stop it he does. Along the way Steven Spielberg dazzles us with armies of spider-like robots that track down criminals, automated cars that speed up and down 10-mile-high skyscrapers at a hundred miles an hour, and miniature jets that police officers strap to their backs, allowing them to race to the scene of an expected crime. The special effects should not, however, detract from the important sociological lesson of Minority Report. Many people believe two contradictory ideas with equal conviction. First, they believe they are perfectly free to do whatever they want. Second, they believe the “system” (or “society”) is so big and powerful they are unable to do anything to change it. Neither idea is accurate. Various aspects of society exert powerful influences on our behavior; we are not perfectly free. Nonetheless, it is possible to change many aspects of society; we are not wholly determined either. Changing various aspects of society is possible under certain specifiable circumstances, with the aid of specialized knowledge, and often through great individual and collective effort. As John Anderton says, it’s not the future if you stop it. Understanding the social constraints and possibilities for freedom that envelop us requires an active sociological imagination. The sociological imagination urges us to connect our biography with history and social structure—to make sense of our lives against a larger historical and social background and to act in light of our understanding. Have you ever tried to put events in your own life in the context of history and social structure? Did the exercise help you make sense of your life? Did it in any way lead to a life more worth living? Is the sociological imagination a worthy goal?
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