Inheritance Rites

TRON: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, 2010)

tronSo, I accidentally saw TRON: Legacy.

I’d planned to watch it, but I wanted to rewatch TRON (Steven Lisberger, 1982) first, but it turned out that the bar code was slapped across the word Legacy in a somewhat misleading manner.

So I’m coming to this without having seen TRON since 1999 or 2000, whenever it is I wrote the Pocket Essentials Cyberpunk volume.

There will be spoilers.

Those of you who like reading about convergence and multiplatform narratives can go away and read Aylish Wood’s article, “Contests and Simulations: TRON: Legacy’s Connections with Technologies”, but this is some thoughts about the film sat on a sofa watching a DVD with a cat sizing up my bruised knee for attention.


It might be worth saying – and I’ll come back to this is due course in this space – that I’ve spent the last few days reading about neoliberalism.

Wood astutely says, “it is probably reasonable to describe the dramatic impetus of the narrative arcs of the reconciled son and father, the battle between Clu 2.0 and the older Flynn, or the growing attachment between Sam Flynn and Quorra as somewhat lackluster.” It is 1989 and Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is telling his son Sam (Owen Best) a bedtime story, before leaving him as always with his speechless parents. One day, Flynn doesn’t come back – and we learn that his speechless wife has died when Sam was but a babe in arms and that he may have been a shady CEO of ENCOM, the company that made the TRON computer game.

Twenty years later, and Sam (Garrett Hedlund) spends his time speeding on motorcycles and throwing himself from great heights, almost as if he is practising to be in a computer game. He has clearly learned to be a Computer Genius – despite lack of father – and plays an annual prank of ENCOM. This year it is to hack into their mainframes and release their new operating system into the wild, which presumably would send their share price into a tailspin.

Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner), still on the board, smiles wryly and later visits Sam in his pad, telling him that he’s just been paged by Flynn. This is Sam’s cue to track down the old, abandoned games arcade, Flynn’s Games, for which someone is still paying the electricity bill, and start hacking his way into one of the computers. Sam gets zapped into cyberspace.

And starts getting caught up in duels which look like motorcycle rides and being thrown from a great height.

And eventually runs into Daddy. Flynn has been Furiously Programming the perfect world and was attacked by a rebellious programme (CLU 2.0, which looks curiously like a young Bridges) which trapped him in virtual reality. In the meantime, he has developed QUORRA (Olivia Wilde), the perfect fembot with triple stranded DNA or something. For reasons that escape me, if Sam can get them to That Tower, The One Over There, they can escape back to reality, but if something goes wrong, then CLU can enter the real world.

So… yadda yadda yadda … Sam returns home with QUORRA and makes Bradley head of the board, saying he will now take an interest in the family business.

Huzza! Heteronormative, patriarchal and capitalist values have been restored.

Sam has been goofing about, whilst other people have been running the company. In his place is a boy pretender, the uncredited Ed Dillinger Jr (Cillian Murphy), who is presumably the son of Dillinger (David Warner), the original Big Bad from TRON. The proper son has returned.

Flynn, meanwhile, has in a sense been fighting against himself, his younger self, because CLU looks like a younger version of Bridges. Apparently computer programs do not age – although I’m not sure why Flynn does, given he’s an avatar of some kind. There really is some kind of insistence on materiality here. He also looks as if he’s pissed off that he’s not yet been cast as a Jedi. He has, of course, been a neglectful father.

So a film about a father making amends for his failings as a father so that his son can inherit capital. And designing a wife for his son – wiser heads than I can trace QUORRA to Chora and Julia Kristeva’s model of psychoanalysis. As far as I recall, the only other female characters in the film that speak – Sam’s mother and grandmother are silent – are dressers known as Sirens.

Is there also an invisible hand here? The counter to the materiality of Flynn in cyberspace is the lack of a body in the real world. What’s happened to the real Flynn? (This might be something that TRON has already explained.)

Could it be that Bradley, realising the good for nothing son of his absentee best friend is wasting his skills and has just cost the corporation millions, has a plan? Why not show up at young Sam’s door with some unlikely story about a pager and get him to enter a carefully stage-managed virtual reality? The proper order is restored, and you get a promotion as a Brucie bonus. Don’t forget, this is a Disney movie and – whilst they’ve shown some latitude in letting “Let It Go” go – I don’t supposed they’d be happy about someone posting their latest intellectual property on YouTube or Vimeo.

Meanwhile, you are left to ponder whether a triple-helixed-DNA lifeform can get pregnant with a double-helixed one.

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