… Minority Report: the part where he confronts the guy who killed his child.
In Minority Report, John Anderton is a man whose job at the Pre-Crime Division allows him to see when people are about to commit a crime; he then goes to arrest them before anything bad can actually happen. He’s a tortured man, suffering from the intense grief of losing his son, and when the events of the film lead him and his friend Agatha to the man who admits to killing the little boy, Anderton understandably contemplates removing this child-killer from the gene-pool.
If he kills the man, then the pre-crime system he has supported for so long will be vindicated. If he kills the man, then his son’s death will be avenged. If he kills the man, then some measure of justice will be done.
If he kills the man, then he will be a killer.
He points his gun at the man … and places him under arrest.
Are we glad that he’s going to allow the child-killer to live? Is anyone ever glad that child-killers are alive? Do we think Anderton would have been justified to blow the guy away … or even torment him in endless creative ways? – probably.
But we’ve watched the struggle too. We’ve seen Anderton’s self-destructive grief and the loss of his marriage. We’ve seen the pitfalls of the Pre-Crime Division, and all the ways that Anderton’s response to this man can affect it. We can see how important it is for Anderton to feel that he has a choice; we agree with Agatha that he has more choices than just to be at the whim of his sadness and anger. We see all the layers and ramifications and interconnectedness of Anderton’s current decision. And in that moment we’re capable of being better people … and of wanting that for Anderton as well.
At the end of the day, it’s not really about the child-killer. It’s about Anderton, about what kind of man he is and what kind of man he can be, about decision and free will and making difficult choices, about letting go of his crippling pain and finding the happy memories on the other side of it. It’s not about the evil he faces; it’s about his choice to face that evil with goodness.
At the end of the day, it’s not about anything that’s ever hurt us (or our loved ones).
It’s about us.
… Groundhog Day: the part where he keeps trying to save the guy who dies.
Phil is a reporter sent to cover the groundhog seeing his shadow on Groundhog’s Day. For some reason, he enters a time loop and relives the same day over again .. and over and over and over again. He starts trying to make small changes – to himself, of course, but also to the old man who dies in the gutter at the end of that day.
He tries to save him every day. He tries CPR. He tries encountering him earlier in the day, getting him a hot meal and some warm clothes. He tries everything he knows how to do, but no matter what, the old man dies at the end of the day.
For me, this is the turning point for Phil, more so even than the meaningful connections he makes that eventually break the time loop. He has to accept that he cares – something he had not been able to do before – and he has to accept that, no matter what he does or how hard he tries, he can’t control everything. Not even an important thing. The most important thing in this world – whether we’re dead or alive – is actually entirely and completely beyond Phil’s ability to change by even a moment.
In the film, Phil has to grieve for the old man; he has to come to terms with his “failure” to save him. But actually, he learned the one thing that was stymying him when he arrived in Punxsutawney, and the thing that tends to stymie all of us: whether the old man lives or dies is irrelevant. It’s not the saving of the old man that Phil was being asked to do. He was being asked to care. He was being asked to involve himself with another human being, and to help make that person’s life as happy as possible while he’s on this planet. Maybe the old man died anyway, but Phil had turned what could have been a sad ending in a cold gutter into an evening with a new friend, a full tummy and a warm bed. Basically, Phil didn’t fail at all.
We all die. What matters isn’t that we die, but what we do before we die. Who have we fed? Who have we clothed? Who have we befriended? Who have we loved? Did we make the people in the world happier with our actions, or not? Who did we hold, and who’s holding us? Phil needed to learn to see the world from this perspective, and so do we, I think … but unlike Phil, we only have the one chance at it. Let’s not mess it up.