I’m the first to admit that sexism and lack of reasonable representations of women in movies doesn’t always bother me, especially if the movie is entertaining otherwise. The original Star Wars Trilogy, for example, didn’t pass the Bechdel test at all, but I still love them. So, my extreme dislike of the movie Tron: Legacy is not just because it’s terrible at representing women, but also because it’s terrible generally. It’s just that a lot of my inability to appreciate even the special effects and music comes from the ridiculous treatment of women in this film.
The Bechdel test, for those unfamiliar with it, is a very simple test about the representation of women in a movie. Passing doesn’t mean a film isn’t sexist, but it is useful in showing how few films actually do the following:
1. Have at least two named female characters
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something other than a man
Tron: Legacy passes the first one, and only just, having the characters of Quorra (Olivia Wilde) and Gem (Beau Garrett). All the other women in the film have names like “Siren #4”. There is only one line in the entire movie spoken between two women and it is “He’s different,” spoken by fembots, excuse me, “Sirens” about a recently en-spandexed Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund).
What I don’t understand about this movie is that there are so many opportunities to put women into it, why couldn’t there be some in minor roles? Why couldn’t they be in major roles?
Why couldn’t Sam have been a woman? Would a story about Flynn’s daughter not have been equally compelling? I think it could have only helped the film, and it would have been a much more original piece to have a young woman who refused to take up responsibility at her father’s company, than having yet another rich boy who won’t take up his father’s mantle. The movie could have been exactly the same, but with a Samantha instead of a Samuel, it would have been much better and much more original.
But let’s accept for the moment that the world is just not ready for girl slackers even though it loves the infantilized Apatow boys, surely there could have been a woman in the real world that had an impact on Sam’s life, right? Instead, the evil CEO and the young Encom programmer they set up as Sam’s rival, and then drop without a second thought, are both men, as is Sam’s only living mentor. The security guard and police that chase him? Men. Even his dog is a boy. As for his grandmother, she’s just dead, as is his mother — both of them unceremoniously dumped from the film for fear of encumbering it with nuances in the presentation of women.
But surely within the world of the computer there is room for females, right? After all, there are women programmers, women love the internet, and within a computer it doesn’t really matter if you’re a man or a woman. The freedom in the semi-anonymous enclave of the computer has been a source of great empowerment for women, surely the creators of the film would give a little something back to all the women who go to Comic Con. Because women are actually a huge part of geek culture, and the last people who are going to trivialize women and make them into mere sexual toys are the nerds, right?
I have to admit that I was shocked at the fembots/sirens scene — it pulled me right out of the movie. When Sam Flynn goes into the Grid world, he is immediately taken into a room with four super sexy women — the kind of ridiculous, hyper-sexed women I haven’t seen in a theater since Dude, Where’s my Car? — they strip him down and then dress him. Why does this scene exist? There is no new information given and surely they could have introduced Gem, who appears later, in a much less embarrassing way.
So then Sam goes to fight in the Neon Frisbee games, and all of his competitors are men, because hurling a frisbee is bad for female programs’ delicate sensibilities, and then he goes to talk to the evil Clu, who has a strictly XY inner circle. I will refrain from complaining too much, because James Frain was brilliant and I love him, but is there any reason the major domo couldn’t have been a woman? Or maybe the guards or people working on computers nearby could have been female. Or just one person in the light cycle bike racing fight.
When Quorra finally makes an appearance, it’s almost a relief to remember that non-fembot women are, in fact, allowed to be on screen. Unfortunately, Quorra is a hyper-sexualized, wide-eyed, male fantasy. She only wears skintight clothing, can fight and drive fast cars, but doesn’t know anything and needs men to teach her about the world and make decisions for her. I love Olivia Wilde, but this character is embarrassing — after seeing how brilliant and nuanced she can be on House, it’s incredibly depressing to see her made into nothing more than fodder for fanboy fantasy.
At this point the film just gets dull and repetitive until we are reintroduced to the siren Gem, and meet Zeus, played to manic David Bowie extremes by Michael Sheen. Once again, there is an opportunity here for a meaty secondary role to be given to a woman, and once again they give it to a man. I love Michael Sheen, but what if Cate Blanchett or Tilda Swinton had had this role? It would have meant giving lines to a woman who wasn’t a smoking hot 25 year old, I know.
Quorra gets injured and has to be saved by Flynn the elder. And then she gets captured by Tron and has to be rescued by Flynn the younger. And then there’s a chase scene in which she flies a plane, as directed by the men, and Flynn the younger shoots at people and Flynn the elder uses his magic godlike powers to fight Clu. At the end our intrepid hero gets the girl and drives her around on the back of his bike, where women belong.
There were so many opportunities for this film to treat women as anything other than sexual objects and so many good reasons for it to have done so. It’s very difficult for me, as someone who loves and identifies strongly with geek culture, to put up with the complete lack of reasonable female characters in almost every major release that is supposed to appeal to me. This stuff isn’t hard and it doesn’t require that much thought, but of course the only female with a major role in the creation of the film was the woman who wrote the original screenplay to Tron 30 years ago.