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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

In Steven Spielberg’s classic “Minority Report,” three mutants predict murders before they happen. In a futuristic Washington, D.C., a special division of police are responsible for stopping and apprehending murderers before they even commit the act. If you haven’t seen it, and have two hours and 26 minutes to burn sometime in the very near future, do yourself a favor and watch it.

Philosophically, the overarching theme of the movie is a debate many of us have had: free will versus determinism. The movie implies the future is set in stone. Characters in the movie clearly and vividly observe the future, which predicts murders around futuristic D.C. It seems, then, that characters’ destinies are already paved. But there was that one conversation between Agatha and Anderton during which she reminds him that because he is aware of his future, he can change it.

We find a wonky paradox here. Our fates are, in fact, predetermined, but awareness can lead this determinism to be false. It’s been free will all along, but it isn’t really free will in the first place, because the future is predetermined. When accused of pre-murder, protagonist Anderton flees arrest and, through a series of events, is forced to kill in order to survive. Had the accusation not occurred in the first place, Anderton never would have had to flee arrest and subsequently kill. Essentially, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: A metaphysical conundrum, if you will.

The movie asks another philosophical question, steering toward moral psychology. Witwer says the main “legalistic drawback” is that it “arrests individuals who have broken no laws.” Obviously it’s wrong to arrest someone who has not committed a crime, but is it wrong to arrest someone who most likely will commit a crime? As Anderton notes in the movie, “The fact that you prevented it from happening doesn’t change the fact that it was going to happen.”

These two questions — that of free will and determinism, along with that of incarceration of non-offenders — are not new, by any means, but “Minority Report” has new things to say about them. With the horrific events of 9/11 less than a year prior to the movie’s release, and new legislation coming out on things regarding mass public surveillance and national security, this movie came out right on time. It confronts its audience with a not-so-distant world — it takes place in only 2054 — where Americans have sacrificed liberties and rights like privacy and due process in exchange for a society where the murder rate is essentially zero.

In the movie, a person sits behind a computer screen and evaluates evidence that has yet to even exist. They then immediately start getting their case ready for arrest, prosecution, judgment and sentence. They are accused without being present, tried without a defense and convicted before they know they’re in trial.

This is not paradise. This future looks and feels incredibly dystopian. While we rejoice at the fact that the murder rate is drastically low, we still cringe at the fact that these “pre-murderers” are more or less found guilty and sentenced without a defense for crimes they didn’t commit.

Right now, our political landscape is the most fragile it’s ever been in the youthful collective memory of UF’s Student Body. The upcoming presidential election has brought out the worst in some of us. Questions of how to best protect ourselves in troubling times really should be asked, and movies like “Minority Report” remind us that some answers come at great social cost. Moreover, some answers require us to sacrifice rights and privileges that are quintessentially American. With the third presidential debate coming up Wednesday, we hope you all pay attention and critically evaluate both parties’ candidates in every regard, keeping in mind that the extremely complex nature of the political questions they try to answer.

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