QUESTION: Symbols are a rich source of meaning in an effective text.
“In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”
In a visual text the most significant ideas are often conveyed through the images and symbols presented to the viewer. The film Minority Report, a futuristic dystopia directed by Stephen Spielberg, which was based on a short story written in 1956 by Philip K. Dick is rich with such symbolic representation. You could go so far as to say that Minority Report picks up the baton of dystopian imagery laid down for it by seminal works by the likes of George Orwell in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, Anthony Burgess in “A Clockwork Orange” and Margaret Atwood in “The Handmaid’s Tale”. In doing this Spielberg is able to invoke the strong associations we make with those images and bring them to bear on his futuristic setting.
Eyes representing surveillance
A literary symbol that has acquired layer upon layer of nuanced meaning and that re-surfaces repeatedly in dystopian literature is that of the eye. Perhaps due to the prevailing preoccupation in this genre with ideas of surveillance, totalitarian control, technology and invasion into the privacy of the individual, the prevalence of the image of the eye should not surprise us; however, if we look more deeply at the symbol, in particular its classical origins, where the eyes represented variously: evil intention, regret, and where justice and the oracles were frequently presented as blind, we can see that Minority Report provides us with a fascinating futuristic parallel to this. In Minority Report, the arm of the state is frequently associated with images of eyes, to the extent that, in some scenes, montages of close up images of eyes are projected onto screens and surfaces whenever the Pre-crime officers take action. Conversely, John Anderton, the anti-hero of the piece, in an effort to conceal his identity has his eyes removed and replaced. In that same scene where the pre-crime offices are associated with images of eyes, he is blindfolded following this medical procedure.
Spielberg is invoking the classical image of justice as ‘blind’ (or impartial); Anderton, with his growing insight into the flaws in the crime-prediction system that is based on the premonitions of three semi-conscious pre-cognitives, becomes a warrior for justice in a corrupt system built around the assumption that all humans have only one certain future. It is through the centuries-old development of our ideas around the symbol of the eye that Spielberg is able to add nuance to his dire warning, and it is through the symbol of the eye that he is able to create an association between his film and much of the great dystopian literature of the 20th Century: Namely that we must all pay close attention any time a state wishes to extinguish the right of an individual to assert their own moral agency.
“Remember the eyes, John. The eyes of the nation are on us”
Transparent/Translucent/Reflective/Opaque Surfaces representing propaganda, surveillance, state control and manipulation of the individual via perception
Pre-cogs as symbols of the oracle or innocence.