Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tron Legacy: Arcades and the Zen of Nostalgia

If you are old enough to remember watching the original Tron when it came out in 1982, then you're old enough to remember playing upright video games at an arcade. You'd probably remember too that arcades were the hang out, the cool place to be, and also one of the few places to challenge your hand eye coordination. 
Original poster for Tron from 1982. They posed again like this in the sequel.
My grandfather and my father each owned an arcade. So I grew up in these sketchy places. Throwing up in the bathroom because I had eaten too much pizza. Playing Ms Pac Man over and over again. I loved Centipede even though my hand would get caught in the ball roller joystick. 

Tron Legacy tries to harness the power of our generational nostalgia.  The logic at Disney might have been: if comic book movies are doing so well, perhaps another video game movie will rock the box office too? 

Unfortunately, much like the first Tron, the story line left much to be desired. The 3D aspect was fun, disorienting, and claustrophobic in the best possible way. However, there weren't nearly enough 3D scenes. In addition to video game nostalgia, there was also something in it for anybody who attended a rave in the 90s. The film extolled an unnamed Zen like form of meditation and states of altered consciousness. The older 'good' Jeffery Bridges character seemed to be modeled after Timothy Leary. I didn't expect this aspect of techno obsessed culture to be addressed. But I was pleased that it tapped into nostalgia that I didn't even know I had.  Do I really miss extra wide pants, large plastic beads, and having ten male friends who all aspire to be DJs? Young men who buy techno music on vinyl; are ultra skinny; who make a living building websites; who transform their closet into a meditation room; and who talk about their plans to go to Goa, India to party and to follow the path of enlightenment. The dudes I knew had a Third Way reading group and in their own way were questioning normative masculinity. Well, now that I get to thinking about it, I do miss the arrogant, naive, and party obsessed crew a little bit.

If I see those dudes from my raving days again, I hope they are wearing this outfit.
In truth, when I first came out of the theater, I was going crazy for Tron Legacy. Where the script lagged, the visual style and pace kept propelling the film forward. Where the visual style got repetitive, the Zen of knowing that 'the only constant is change' keep me calm. Where the tropes of nostalgia got nauseating, the beauty of the sexually ambiguous Olivia Wilde keep me in my seat. Speaking of which, let's turn to gender in the film. 

1. Child who lost his father. Excellent for my generation, as we are the first group where divorce among our parents was wide spread. Although his inability to let go of his anger at having an absent father might have resonated more ten years ago. In our thirties now, most of us have moved on from obsessing about parents neglect.
2. Rumours about Olivia Wilde's sexuality are all over the place. She has played a lesbian or a bisexual in the TV shows the OC and House. The fact that she has been married to a man for five years does not seem to deter anyone from noticing how into it she seems to be in her onscreen lesbian scenes. A jet black bob really looks great on her. 
Olivia Wilde looking like she's ready to cuddle
3. The character Michael Sheen plays is queer in some way. Even though he's a 'bad guy' in the end, at least his overly theatrical bleach blond cane dance is pleasing. 
4. The bleach blond automaton woman is disturbing. She also turns out to be evil. But not before four almost identical--though racially diverse--women practically seduce the protagonist in an oddly sexist scene where they remove his clothes then dress him in the gear of the game world.


  1. I like the paragraph where you discuss the ten male friends who want to be DJs and their orientalist obsessions. I want to hear you take the piss out of them even more!

    It's also interesting how you mention the theme about the angry kid with absent father ... The deadbeat dad theme is becoming universal - and I'd love to read something on that, especially with your comment about how the theme of children obsessing over their deadbeat patriarchs is kind of passe. Could the obsession with missing dads that was once so common be some sort of longing for the nuclear family than, maybe, realizing that dads were not entirely entirely necessary now that the family is being redefined? Who knows....

  2. Oh, your insight about the redefined family being the source that is easing the pain of absent father's is so interesting. I hadn't thought of it that way. Rather, I was thinking more linearly of the particular generation that Tron Legacy is aimed at. Those who saw the first Tron when it originally came out--those of us would just be too old (hopefully) to keep dwelling on our parents. Many of us are now parents and need to focus on how that is going to work. But you are so right. The expanded and blended ideas of family outside the borders of 1 mother + 1 father = everything you every wanted, is going to changed which stories have cultural resonance.