Missing information and the fabricated forensics of space in Minority Report


Doesn’t stay anywhere long enough to make its turbulence count, which is fine if you are onboard the ride, and unbearable if you are not. I found it unbearable but what it does with image-making is more important than my qualms about it as a narrative work and aesthetics is the stage where it most articulately explores its thematics any way. The image processing doesn’t achieve the noir feeling Spielberg intended for “the ugliest, dirtiest movie I’ve ever made,” but more importantly lends the film the overstimulated, permanently agitated voice that has the viewer endure rather than simply observe the finer details of its freaked out world. We have well established aesthetic frameworks for understanding the dirt of the past in noir as something soft and beautiful so Minority Report works with the idea that ugliness is in what we refuse about the now. This works in two ways: virtual architecture, and destructive editing.

It is significant that the world of Minority Report existed across Photoshop files well before there was a big picture script to bind it, as it is so clearly the product of network thinking, of dispersed digital fragments assembled in an ad hoc ‘now’. The film’s entirely digital art department (Hollywood’s first) realises virtual-real hybridity in place of the mythic ‘cyberspace’ of a few years earlier, with the digital existing within and atop physical architecture — augmenting it with interfaces for embodied action, but also recording and controlling the flow of people and machine entities in a spectacularised smart city. It all seems really granular, but then again it can’t stop moving, and that’s because the people that occupy its spaces can’t stop moving either. It is more concerned with everyday life under ubiquitous surveillance than Cruise’s Mission Impossible films, but then it is more curious about the private ownership of the Internet of Things, with facial recognition and environmental sensors being used not only for law enforcement but pervasive targeted advertising following people everyware.

This twenty first century architecture, irreducible to entirely virtual or physical elements, is not just present in the way it looks but also inherent in the tools: the same 3D modelling software Gehry and Greg Lynn (who would join the production) have used for ‘real’ projects are here deployed for the cinematic architecture by production designer Alex McDowell. Although in an interview with Metropolis the designer bemoans the fact the only way to enter and use Minority Report‘s spaces is through the proxy of narrative agents (which is debatable), things are not so straightforward on the functional end with much of the architectural data generated for Spielberg’s film being repurposed for the concurrently produced video game many of us will never play. The Minority Report film then exists across real and virtual instances and applications, with its cinematic grain underpinned by innumerable deleted digital files, and its images coexisting across film and game spaces at once: the game informs the film and vice versa.

The inherent disposability of production design is accelerated by the digital format — the deterritorialisation of code, the ease of its deletion — but Minority Report feels already rapid to the point of shambling. Real people are placed, backgrounds are deleted, people are deleted, backgrounds are rendered, augmentation is drawn, and so on. It’s an ugly film because it visually dramatises its own destructability, its foundations in lossy formats and processes. Kamiński’s excessive closeups only maim humanity with claustrophobic framing that brings faces up to the surface of the screen in an agitated, jittery grain. In both agent and environment the bleach bypass has blacks delineate shapes, but the film’s colours both swarm with noise and stop short of a satisfying colour field, appearing both spectacularly loud and frustratingly desaturated, like a universally bad rip where some information is just gone for good. This jaggedness is as much about post-production deletion as it is about inherent productive faults — the overexposed images that allow a blinding white light to sometimes devour the entire image.

And this is where it’s so effective — its denial of image forensics for closure after tragedy. The aforementioned image production process is dramatised in an incredible sculptural sequence where Cruise plays projections of his wife and missing son, and Spielberg moves laterally to reveal that behind their apparent three-dimensionality is chaotic image data detached from the two-dimensional picture surface to be pulled into nothing like gravity through water or like falling ash. Try to peer around the side, to see what’s behind the tree, and it all comes collapsing down. In his job he orchestrates angles to manufacture photographic spaces to better understand cause and effect, how, when, and why. And things get fixed, and people go away, and trauma is relegated to the unrealised future, except as Farrell points out there’s always a terminus and it’s always human: the seers cry and shake, and the pain lives on in their bodies. This phenomena is called an ‘echo’, rippling through time as a negative image of what could have been, a pain that no one will put their hand up to adopt. The recorded image is an echo with a home, representing a time that cannot be retrieved or followed. It endures in the absence of what it wants to deliver. All things considered a better analogy might be a scar.

Kamiński’s overblown lights remind the viewer the image both needs light in order to materialise and can be destroyed by it: in his process the blinding image reveals too much was captured, so rather than having light gradually paint the image up, forms must be found by working through the annihilatory white noise after the fact. With this cycle of reduction (construction) and addition (destruction) it is an interesting time to revisit Minority Report with H.A.Q.Q. and Jesus Is King also bearing recording surface damage, and also scrutinising the art object as something that can give or withhold access to something beyond itself (the artist, the subject, the divine). There has to be something in lens flares, Kleinian blues, digital compression, and glitches, but that’s for somewhere else. Here the analogue to ineffable grief is clear in a heartbreaking corruption of white light signifying transcendence, and the eye transplant sequence serves no function other than to remind Cruise that staring into the sun, staring into the image, too long will do nothing other than blind him. The talk with Agatha is its real conclusion as she advises there’s nothing more to it than can be viewed on the projector, no hidden answer that will have it all make sense, but the echo, however painful, will trail as far into the future as you’re willing to go with it and the point is to go with it.

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