The Minority Report – Summary

The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick talks about a society where crime can be detected before it happens. A group of three precog mutants foresee any criminal act that might happen in future. Precrime is a police unit which stops the crime before it actually happens. Anderton is head of the police unit and he is believed to murder an unknown man Kaplan as per the report of the precog mutants. This makes him worry about a conspiracy behind it. What follows is how Anderton tries hard to unravel the secrets behind the report, but ends up killing Kaplan and thus proving the prophecy of the precogs as true.

Summary

The story begins with John Anderton, the Police Commissioner waiting for the arrival of Ed Witwer, the second in command in the police agency, who will take the reins from Anderton once he retires from the job. Witwer appears to be a man of business and Anderton is visibly upset and anxious upon the arrival of the young Witwer and feels unsettled at the prospect of him becoming the new commissioner sooner or later.

We are then introduced to the system of Precrime which is developed to stop criminal acts from taking place and arresting potential would-be criminal from committing the act of violence. The precog mutants, a set of three mutants work together to produce data from the future which allows the police to arrest criminals before they actually commit the criminal act. Anderton recognizes the problem of this system and his views give legitimacy to the fact that the people they arrest are innocent. He agrees that since they have not yet committed any crime, “in a sense they are innocent”. The author has straightway raised the central concern of the story at the beginning itself.

The three precogs, the three mutant robots are described as babbling “idiots” whose “minds were dull, confused, lost in shadows.” The description adequately sets in an inorganic and mechanized way of analyzing crimes. The mutants are said to be “vegetable- like”, devoid of any true sense, emotions or critical thought. The machines merely pass on the analyzed information and do not understand what they are analyzing. It is the humans like Anderton who analyze those things and interpret and intercept any potential future crime. The precogs give three different time paths which are nothing but three different reports, each describing the future actions of the would-be criminals. This is explained by the “theory of multiple-futures. If only one time-path existed, precognitive information would be of no importance, since no possibility would exist, in possessing this information, of altering the future.”

At the end of section I, Anderton, the head of the Precrime system is himself accused of a future murder that he will commit in a week’s time and Anderton “with absolute, overwhelming conviction,” refuses to believe it. This leads him to a state of paranoia and Anderton believes that his wife could have implicated his name or that Witwer is plotting against him to get his job.

Jerry, the middle mutant has given the minority report which has the proof of Anderton’s innocence. This was outvoted by the report of the other two mutants which contained proof of Anderton’s killing of Kaplan. The minority report contained the prediction that Anderton is innocent as it gives an alternate version of the future event. The minority report differed from the majority report which would prove that the murder could be averted. But Anderton gets arrested and detained by Leopold Kaplan to prevent the predicted murder. The new commissioner of precrime Ed Witwer has taken charge and a formal warrant of arrest has been issued against Anderton. This makes him believe that this was a setup against him with Witwer and Lisa as accomplices.

Fleming is the man who then appears and saves Anderton with a preset accident and helps him escape by giving him a new identity to escape the police and avoid arrest. Later Anderton and his wife Lisa escape in a ship. Anderton believes that since he saw the precognitive data and the information from the precogs, he could hence avert the murder. Hence, his seeing the card did the trick and solved the crime. But this also raises the other significant issue that there could have been others too who could have changed their minds and averted the crimes, if only the precognitive information was allowed to reach them to prevent the crime from happening. This lacuna points out to the grave injustice done to several of the ‘would-be’ criminals who were imprisoned in detention camps before they actually committed the act of violence. These powerless people of the state, without the state machinery and political or bureaucratic strength were not able to defend themselves and had to be imprisoned in detention camps by the Police.

Anderton was in a position to change his mind and to avoid the act of violence because he has the knowledge of the precognitive data with him. This is echoed in Kaplan’s public speech where he tries to denounce and expose the illegitimacy of precrime system and refute its prediction of future crimes and criminals:

But there can be no valid knowledge about the future. As soon as precognitive information is obtained, it cancels itself out. The assertion that this man will commit a future crime is paradoxical. The very act of possessing this data renders it spurious. In every case, without exception, the report of the three police precogs has invalidated their own data. If no arrests had been made, there would still have been no crimes committed.

At this point the story reaches the climax and we see that the focus of the story shifts to power politics and struggle to gain power between the Police run by Witwer, Anderton, Lisa and the Army, headed by General Kaplan. Kaplan has evolved this conspiracy to shift the power from the Police to them. Kaplan, thinking that Anderton will not kill him shares the stage with him and publicly tries to expose the glitch in the minority report, which will lead to the entire police precrime system to be disbanded.

In a sudden turn of events, a characteristic feature of Phildickian prose, Anderton kills Kaplan to maintain the status quo and to save Precrime system from being disbanded by the senate and the army. This allows him to uphold the accuracy of the precrime system. The story ends with Kaplan getting killed and the prediction of the precogs coming true. The precrime system was not incorrect, as it had predicted the victim and the perpetrator of the crime correctly.

At the end we get to know that the three reports created by the three precog mutants all differed significantly and hence there were no majority reports but three different minority reports. Anderton also warns Witwer that such events might happen again, but “only to the next Police Commissioner…It might happen to you at any time” – thereby hinting that such turn of events and the confusion regarding the minority report would only occur in a situation which involves people of power, like the police commissioner himself. For the ordinary people might not even get a chance to clear their names to prevent arrest.

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