I talked about it a bit with War of the Worlds, and I’ll most likely get into it again when I work my way down to A.I. and Saving Private Ryan, but there was a stretch from Ryan through Worlds where people really seemed to have a problem with Spielberg’s endings. Whenever he would veer away from the darker and therefore supposedly better direction some thought his films should have gone, there were cries that he just couldn’t resist the happy ending. These cries coming from people who had apparently been ignorant of his filmography up to this point, as if this was some new trend. Spielberg doesn’t mind taking you to dark places. He just likes to set you back down safely afterward, with maybe a greater appreciation of that safety when you return. And when you think about it, a darker ending to Minority Report would sort of undermine what it has to say about inevitability and free will.
A lot of people really want to read the ending as a product of Anderton’s imagination, locked in his imprisoned coma and dreaming of his own happy ending. They argue that pretty much the entire film from his incarceration forward is all in his mind. So while we’re watching heroic rescues and righteous comeuppance and happy endings, we’re really watching a man escape into his dreams to blot out the bleakness of his captivity. Which would be great if this film was Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s brilliant take on the power of imagination to overcome even the bleakest of realities. But Minority Report isn’t about that. It’s about whether our futures are predetermined or if we have the power to change even what looks like the most certain of destinies. To have Anderton — the main proponent of the point of view that the pre-cogs visions are not infallible — end up defeated and locked away is to say that no, in the end, we’re bound to whatever fate has in store for us, even if the specifics end up a little different when all is said and done. Sure, “He’s dreaming” is a neat, dark, twisted ending, but it’s one that entirely betrays the themes of the film for the sake of having a neat, dark twisted ending.
Now, where some of these detractors may have a point is a bit of on-screen text that was later cut before the film was released, wherein we’re told that the year after the pre-cog program was shut down, there were 150 murders in Washington, D.C. That is a dark ending that matches what we’ve seen. Yes, we choose our own destinies, but that doesn’t come without responsibility, or consequences. You having the ability to determine your life means someone else has the ability to take it. Free will ain’t free. That epilogue is a great dose of reality for the happy ending, and it’s a legitimate misstep by Spielberg to have removed it.
Then again, we’re talking about a director who said that at this point in his life, he would have a hard time making a film with an ending like Close Encounters, where the main character essentially abandons his family to go with the aliens. A part of me wants to say Spielberg the artist should be able to separate himself from Spielberg the parent and just tell good stories regardless of whether he would do what his characters do; there are plenty of good fathers who have told downright terrifying stories. But like I said earlier, Spielberg’s never going to give us a film like a Silence of the Lambs or a Seven. It’s just not in his blood.
Tomorrow: Law and Order: Connecticut