Tron: Legacy: Where are all the women?

The Poster

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.

Jeri Ellsworth: Real Life Awesome Programmer

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.

"First you give us the continuum transfunctioner, then we give you oral pleasure."

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.

I find these heels incredibly practical for fighting and driving

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.

Why is it necessary to have this shot, and why am I sitting like this?

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.

Tron: Legacy: Where are all the women?

41 thoughts on “Tron: Legacy: Where are all the women?

  1. 2

    Really nice critique. I must profess my ignorance, I previously had never heard of the Bechdel test, but hey, now I know. ^_^ Speaking of geek culture, I would really be interested in some way of applying the same principles of the test to video games. I imagine it would have to be modified slightly, but I think we would find fairly similar treatment of women.

  2. D

    Just to gently address some of your points, first off, the reason for having Flynn’s son, and not the daughter you think would have “improved” the movie, is very simple:

    It’s to illustrate how as a father, Flynn was letting both of his sons languish, and to show the strained father-son relationships in both worlds. In the real world, his biological, flesh and blood son, and in the computer Grid, his digital “son”, CLU.

    It wouldn’t have worked if it was a daughter, simply for that. It was meant to show that in his efforts to create his digital world, and shape his real world, he ruined both relationships. It’s less about “son conquers all”, and more about “Father redeems/attempts to redeem himself and both of his relationships with his sons.

    As far as “Sam’s only living mentor” being male, that role could not have been cast as a woman. That character is “Alan Bradley”, a key player from the original, and also the voice/actor of the Tron character.

    One can’t exactly recast a reprised role from the original film.

    To touch on this: 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.

    *EVERYONE* in the film except for Kevin Flynn himself, wears skintight clothing. Did you not notice that? It’s a holdover from the original, wherein EVERYONE wore skintight clothing.

    Quorra doesn’t know anything, because if you’d paid attention to the plot itself, as an ISO program, she sprang into existence on her own, with no User to actually code and write her program. Ergo, without having been actually programmed, she doesn’t know anything except that which she learns. Same as a human, only she popped out an adult, because programs don’t have life cycles like a human.

    Quorra gets injured and has to be saved by Flynn the elder.

    Flynn is essentially “god”, of this computer world, as he created it. Ergo, if anyone could save her, he could. Her code was damaged, and the only person who could save her would be a User, and in this case, the one who created the entire world they are in.

    And then she gets captured by Tron and has to be rescued by Flynn the younger.

    Knowing the importance of keeping CLU from the portal, she did the “heroic sacrifice”, and wasn’t just weakly captured. You do her character injustice by reducing that sacrifice to “was captured”. Especially considering the “heroic sacrifice” is usually reserved for male characters.

    At the end our intrepid hero gets the girl and drives her around on the back of his bike, where women belong.

    She’s never once set foot in the real world. Concepts like gravity, heat, cold, and everything else are completely alien to her. Ever stop to think that maybe she’s riding on the bike because she has no idea how to drive it? It’s not a digital motorcycle, she’s never been on one before, she’s never existed outside of a computer.

    I can forgive a lot of your errors in judgement in this review, as it appears you either didn’t see the first one, or did, and forgot it, or saw this one and didn’t quite “get” it.

    1. 5.1

      1. I’m not sure what’s gained in a father/son vs father/child. Is a father’s relationship with his children somehow less of a creator relationship if the child is female?

      2. Sam could have had more than one living mentor, like the woman from the original could have reprised her role as well.

      3. The women’s clothes are much tighter than the men’s. And much sexier than the original costumes

      4. Yes, there are story reasons to treat Quorra the way she is treated. That doesn’t change the fact that the story they chose to tell makes her childlike, helpless, but super sexy. They didn’t have to tell that story or they could have chosen to have a more varied representation of women. This isn’t a documentary, the writers didn’t have to write it this way.

      1. tdj

        1. I’m guessing you don’t remember the original very well, as has been suggested. It wouldn’t work because programs you write look like you – and Clu is a direct part of Flynn, ergo, Clu is ‘male’ and a son – just like Sam had to be to mirror each other. And if Clu had stayed male and Sam had been Samantha, I think I’d be reading here about how horrible it was that Flynn would sacrifice his future with his daughter to reintegrate his male ‘child’ and save the world he created.

        2. Yes, he ‘could’ have – but a whole bunch of mentors doesn’t make for a good movie. Just one is fine.

        3. No, they’re not. Everybody’s outfits were skin-tight, and it overall looked better than the original because the CG is obviously much, much better.

        4. I don’t know where you keep getting just ‘super sexy’ out of this. Other than being a pretty face – Quorra isn’t very sexual. She’s a free spirit, naive and curious about the world (and naive doesn’t mean stupid, just that she’s new to the whole existing thing and needs to learn about her surroundings) – but they don’t play too heavily on her sexuality. I’d really like to hear what you think is ‘sexy’ about her aside from simply being pretty – because I must have missed the scenes where she was playing the role of sex kitten.

        And despite her experience with light cycles, I’d probably keep the keys out of her hands until she gets an actual license . . .

        1. 1. I have seen and do remember the first. I don’t think that sam looks enough like flynn sr for that parallel to work if that’s what they were trying to call back to

          2. So why not her instead? Why not a woman anywhere? That’s my problem, it’s not one individual thing, it’s the cumulative effect

          3. Yes, everything looked way less nerdy

          4. See photos. See outfit. See ass shots. And again, it’s not that she’s sexy that’s the problem, it’s that there are only two women with speaking roles, one a stereotypical super hot seductor and one a naive, super hot girl dependent on men and presented as much as an object as an individual.

  3. D

    1. Maybe I wasn’t properly clear. I mean to say they wanted to draw a parallel between both his “sons”. There is a difference, especially in Hollywood between “Father/daughter” and “Father/son”, and I think the parallel between Kevin/CLU and Kevin/Sam would have been weakened if it’d been different.

    2. That one, I think was for expedience and plot. She played Yuri inside the original system, and Lori outside. Pulling in Tron made sense, Flynn needed a defender of his new system. Having Lori alone in the real world (which was only briefly featured in the film) would have required some additional script finagling to give her a reason to be there, and fans would have gotten upset at Yuri not being present in the new system. Which, story wise, I can’t come up with a single reason why Flynn would copy her program to his server. I think she was simply left out because no reason could be found to put her in.

    3. I don’t think anyone’s original costumes were too sexy. 😛 However, I heard more than one woman’s sharp intake of breath at the scene of Sam being dressed.

    4. She IS childlike, though. That’s entirely the essence of the ISO programs. All of them. Backstory material (Graphic novel, video game) show all of them, male and female, to be like that. They weren’t written with pre-loaded information, so they grasp at the world like a human child.

    What you’re saying here is sort of “re-write the entire story and all significant plot points in order to give one character a different personality that you agree with”.

    I don’t find her helpless. You first see her saving Sam’s butt, and then she helps him again, she’s the one who goads Flynn into getting off his introspective butt and DOING something, she makes the stereotypical “heroic sacrifice”. She simply does it with an innocence and naive personality, that are simply born of what she is.

    For the record, not once in the viewing of the film did I think “huh, she is pretty and that is why she is neat”. I enjoyed her personality, her quirkiness, her ability to be so incredibly competent in a fight, yet so innocent out of it. I also like that her budding romance with Sam seemed to not be based in anything physical whatsoever, unlike most Hollywood movies where characters seem to immediately fall into butt-staring, and sloppy makeout sessions. Sam seemed to simply be growing closer to her by *talking to her*.

    That, to me, says that you aren’t meant to be focusing on her appearance, so much as you are her personality.

    As far as “super sexy”, it’s not as though that’s not a Hollywood trend. You cast bunches of attractive people in your leading roles, both male and female. And in Bridges defense, he used to be quite the handsome dude back in the day.

    As far as the story, again, this is something that, to the mythology, is incredibly significant. These are programs that wrote themselves, essentially, and are the only programs in the system (or world, for that matter), that are artificially intelligent, and have *free will*.

    That alone makes her vastly superior to every single program in that system, including the dictatorial CLU, whom does not have free will.

    I guess your mileage may vary, but my interpretations seem to be far different than yours.

    1. 6.1

      1. I disagree that the parallel would be weakened.

      2. Expedience doesn’t change the end result

      3. It’s the helmets :/

      4. Again, I understand that the story called for it, it doesn’t change how the story represents women. I appreciate that it’s open to interpretation, this article is about how I feel about the representation of women in this film. I felt cheated as a female nerd because there were, in my opinion, no fully realized female characters that were more than objects or extentions of men, and not very many women to begin with.

      1. D

        1. We’ll have to agree to disagree. Father/son relationships are inherently different than Father/daughter, especially in Hollywood portrayals. It also simply wouldn’t be the same in terms of story.

        2. Well, no, but I’d still be very hard pressed to find a reason to write that particular character in. It’d end up feeling forced, and probably do more harm than good, and be one of those purposeless cameos that, well, feels forced.

        3. Haha, those were… interesting.

        4. I consider Quorra quite fully realized. She is both strong and vulnerable, intelligent and naive, adventurous, interesting, engaging, she seems to be a fully realized character with personality and facets to said personality. At no point did I see her existing just to be T&A, as it were. I saw, really, no focus at all on her sexuality. She didn’t try to seduce Sam, and like I said, their budding romance came entirely from conversation, learning about each other, rather than staring at body parts. At no point does the Sam character even really look at her body as an object of sexuality. He simply talks to her like a human being. (Which, nitpick, she *isn’t*, she’s a computer program, but whatever).

        I found her to be quite independent and interesting, and I find your interpretation of her character sort of curious, as almost every other review I’ve read remarks that her character is one of the best parts of the film, and not because of her looks.

  4. tdj

    1. Actually, I remarked several times during the movie that I was rather pleased with them casting Sam as they did, that he was very believable as the son – in appearance and specifically in voice.

    2. Lori was Alan’s girlfriend – at the time of the first movie. Alan is a more natural choice considering he was Kevin’s best friend and the creator of Tron.

    3. It’s still sci-fi and everything looks nerdy.

    4. Again, everyone wore tight clothing, and there weren’t gratuitous ass shots of Quorra. There was far more ogling material in there when it came to Sam – maybe you should have used that for your feminist points instead – that generally ‘guy’ movies like sci-fi and action assume that the only women watching them are the girlfriends who want to eye-hump hot dudes in the movie.

    And I don’t think she’s being shown as relying on men. I really don’t. She wasn’t ‘created’, she saved both Flynns, she is incredibly eager to learn information, and has been pointed out, she made a heroic sacrifice and was rescued by Sam because he WANTED to, not because she was being a damsel in distress.

    When you really think about it, there aren’t a lot of main speaking roles at all. You say ‘just two female’ as if there were tons of characters in the whole thing. Alan doesn’t even get much screen time – hell, he gets about as much as Sam’s grandmother.

    Also think about how many of the male characters are portrayed as being ‘bad’ guys. It’s not like all these men are shown as great and wonderful dudes – and of all the programs there are, only one has free will – and that’s the ‘female’ one.

  5. 8

    Haven’t seen the movie, but it also occurred to me that other than women being underrepresented/misrepresented, we also need to highlight other ethnic groups such as blacks, Hispanic, Asians etc. Movies are a great resource for exposure to ideas, thought and inspiration, and with a multicultural nation such as the United States, it is surprising that still most movies only represent the white population.

    We need more realistic and inspirational role models not just for women, but for other ethnic groups as well. You say several of the characters could just as well have been women, similarly several of them could just as well have been black, Hispanic, or Asian.

    1. 8.1

      I agree, but I thought it was too big an issue to add here and I’m not as knowledgeable about race issues as I am on gender and sexuality. There were a lot of minorities in minor roles, but they were mostly thugs or sirens.

      1. Speaking of sexuality, the writers could have eliminated females all together and had the central romance between men. I mean, if the “world” created by Bridges is supposed to reflect him so heavily that the main characters are all guys, then why not ALL characters as men? And portray in a positive light a nerdy gay romance.

        Lesbians would probably go over better in such an idealized nerd world, though.

  6. D

    We need more realistic and inspirational role models not just for women, but for other ethnic groups as well. You say several of the characters could just as well have been women, similarly several of them could just as well have been black, Hispanic, or Asian.

    It’s inside a computer. There isn’t an Africa, an Asia, or a Latin America in there.

    1. 9.1

      But by having minorities in small, subservient roles (hired thugs and prostitutes, essentially) what the writers are saying subconsciously is that minorities exist to serve white people.

      By putting women in roles that are either naive=good or sexual=evil, we’re promoting the Madonna/Whore dichotomy, which vastly misrepresents the natural human complexity that women have, and makes them objects for men to use. Amount of screen-time does not make a fully-realized character. You also have to take advertising for the movie into account, and ALL of that promotes Quorra as a hyper-sexualized nerd fantasy.

      The Madonna/Whore dichotomy is also, I would like to point out, ridiculously Victorian. Male characters in all forms of media have moved away from Victorian melodramatic standards and become highly complex — so why are we still seeing women as either angels or demons, and minorities as slaves to whites?

  7. D

    But by having minorities in small, subservient roles (hired thugs and prostitutes, essentially)

    I’m fairly certain that there were neither in this film. Prostitute is a human concept, and electronic programs that don’t have sex wouldn’t have prostitutes. As far as “hired thugs”, the people serving the villain either did so willingly, or were reprogrammed to do so.

    So I fail to see your comparison in this.

    By putting women in roles that are either naive=good or sexual=evil, we’re promoting the Madonna/Whore dichotomy, which vastly misrepresents the natural human complexity that women have, and makes them objects for men to use. Amount of screen-time does not make a fully-realized character. You also have to take advertising for the movie into account, and ALL of that promotes Quorra as a hyper-sexualized nerd fantasy.

    False again.

    She’s not a “woman”, nor does she have “human complexity”, as it were. The characters, outside of the Flynns, are *computer programs*. Either programmed to exist for a specific purpose, or in the case of Quorra, appearing from nothing. *Every* one of the programs that are like Quorra are presented as being naive, because without a User to have programmed them, their knowledge is limited.

    At no point is she an “object for men to use”. Also, you seem to conveniently forget that *everyone* in the movie wears skintight outfits, and I don’t buy the “well, hers is skin-tighter” argument.

    All the actors had their bodies mapped by laser to ensure the outfit was as tight as possible. Including Sam, and there were far more gratuitous butt shots of Garrett Hedlund than there were of Olivia Wilde.

    That said, I don’t really see how she was “hyper-sexualized”. No one in the movie was. There were no references to appearance, to sex, or anything of the sort. The closest that existed, was in the club scene, a random program looks over at Gem, and she expresses mild disgust at him.

    So, I don’t really see how it establishes “naive=good, sexual=evil”. It’s been explained a dozen times why Quorra is naive, and it’s not because her actress is female. She’s also presented as intelligent, competent, quick-witted, interesting, capable in combat, (she saves both Flynns, and is one of the motivating reasons Kevin decides to get off his butt and do something instead of hide), she expresses a strong interest in learning things, and many other characteristics.

    Even in the “budding romance” between her and Sam, she’s never presented as “He likes her because she’s pretty”. They just talk.

    so why are we still seeing women as either angels or demons, and minorities as slaves to whites?

    Never saw any “slaves to whites” in this. That said, the male characters are fairly clear-cut as well. CLU is a villain, Sam is a “good guy”.

    I find all these mischaracterizations of Quorra to be odd, because from most reviews I’ve read, (and in my opinion, and the opinion of the woman I saw it with), she’s the most well-developed and least one-dimensional character in the whole film.

    Sorry that kind of ran on. I get a little verbose sometimes without meaning to.

    1. 10.1

      I don’t think anyone who reads the comments cares if you’re verbose, but you do have this tendency to look over the general argument about our heteronormative, white-centric, patriarchal culture (using this movie as an example) to find very tiny points and blow them up, as if that somehow invalidates the whole discussion. “Prostitution is a human concept” is a really ridiculous excuse, when *my* point with the word was “women who exist solely for men’s pleasure” ie the Sirens in this film. Call them whatever you like — sluts, whores, concubines, women of the night, prostitutes. My point is that they ARE hyper-sexualized, for the sake of the fan-boy viewer. And the world is otherwise ridiculously white and male and heterosexual, and that it’s a reflection of the dominant culture in this country, which exists entirely on a cooperative denial of the validity and existence of ethnic and sexual minorities, and women.

      Also, you confused me with Ashley, which I’m not — I’m not arguing about their skin-tight clothing. I haven’t seen the movie, personally, and although I thoroughly enjoyed the original Tron, I think Hollywood’s (and Broadway’s) revamping of classics for a new audience, instead of coming up with original material, assumes that we’re a stupid audience, and I find that insulting, so I haven’t seen a movie in almost a year.

      I would also like to point out that you confusing me with Ashley 1) says a lot about how much attention you’re paying to the argument overall, and 2) says a lot about what you think of women, and people who disagree with you.

      1. tdj

        women who exist solely for men’s pleasure” ie the Sirens in this film.
        I haven’t seen the movie, personally,

        If you haven’t seen the movie, well – I don’t know how you can talk as an expert, or why I’m even replying . . . but I am. If you’re talking within the movie, that sure as hell wasn’t for anyone’s pleasure. And outside of it – they weren’t sexy. Their outfits were tight, but they were cold, mechanical, and creepy.

        And the world is otherwise ridiculously white and male and heterosexual

        Yes, and you’d complain if any of the ‘bad guys’ were minorities. Only if Quorra were a transsexual multi-racial lesbian do I think you’d be satisfied here – she’s the ‘good’ one. There aren’t many major roles, and most of them were established in the first one. Since you seem to be an expert on nerds, nerds would care a lot more about changing key characters to suit a political agenda than getting to watch some lesbians do a slap ‘n’ tickle.

        I would also like to point out that you confusing me with Ashley 1) says a lot about how much attention you’re paying to the argument overall, and 2) says a lot about what you think of women, and people who disagree with you.

        I don’t see D confusing you with Ashley, and I don’t know how that relates to ‘what you think of women.’ A lot of strong points have been made by dissenters here and I have not seen them addressed – just ignored, and the same tired arguments that have been fully refuted brought up time and time again.

        Seriously, I did a O_o face at you using that ‘says a lot about what you think of women’ line related to . . . I mean . . . seriously, wat?

  8. tdj

    Lesbians would probably go over better in such an idealized nerd world, though.
    hyper-sexualized nerd fantasy.

    Awfully interesting that someone who hates stereotyping is more than willing to stereotype an entire group of people.

    Because all nerds are male, straight, and like to watch lesbians make out? That’s really hypocritical. I’m no serious feminist, it’s not my cause. But I am a nerd, a big one – and that does not automatically cause me to morph into the stereotype of a slovenly pig living off of hot pockets in his mother’s basement.

    And frankly, most people I know get irritated with unnecessary, over the top love stories in movies where they don’t belong. It’s just what I mentioned before – the assumption that the only chicks watching a movie are there to see it with their boyfriends and they need to throw in a love scene for the ‘ladies.’ I liked the relationship between Sam and Quorra because it wasn’t overdone, it wasn’t suddenly sexual with a bunch of gratuitous makeout scenes . . . It was sweet, and it was just a side note – it didn’t interfere with the actual plot of the movie.

    People don’t go to the movies for softcore porn. We have the internet.

    1. 11.1

      I enjoyed the article, though it’s been over two decades and I still haven’t decided whether or not the see the movie. I was just going through the comments, taking in the back-and-forth between everyone, and you said something that caught my eye:

      “I’m no serious feminist, it’s not my cause.”

      If you’re human, it’s your cause. Feminism doesn’t require a vulva to participate in or fight for; it’s about ensuring that any human is given the same rights regardless of biological factors such as skin color, genitals, or sexual orientation.

      There is so much more I’d like to say, but there have been many more eloquent speakers than I who have written and spoken on the subject. The end point is this: feminism’s main intent is to ensure that *people* get treated as *equals* in the most fundamental ways (e.g. pay scale for the same job, complex characters to play in movies regardless of gender, skin color, et al, and etc.).

      I can’t speak for those who believe that women are better than men; that’s not my cause. 😉

  9. D

    “Prostitution is a human concept” is a really ridiculous excuse, when *my* point with the word was “women who exist solely for men’s pleasure” ie the Sirens in this film.

    Explain how. Sam looks positively uncomfortable with their forced undressing of him. If that had been a female character being forcibly undressed by 4 male “Sirens”, your words here would be very, very different.

    Why the double standard?

    He did not appear to have “pleasure”, nor enjoy it in the least. He looked ashamed, embarrassed, and uncomfortable.

    Also, you confused me with Ashley, which I’m not — I’m not arguing about their skin-tight clothing.

    No, I didn’t. I simply assumed that the costumes would be what you were touching on, because there’s nothing else possible in the film that could lead one to think Quorra is “hyper-sexualized”.

    Though, the fact that you haven’t seen the movie reveals a lot. That’d be why you think the Sirens are somehow prostitutes, or “existing for male pleasure”.

    They very clearly aren’t, if one has seen the film. As for Quorra, it’s very clear that you haven’t seen it, because you’d have never made some of the claims about her character that you did, if you had.

    I would also like to point out that you confusing me with Ashley 1) says a lot about how much attention you’re paying to the argument overall, and 2) says a lot about what you think of women, and people who disagree with you.

    Again, I didn’t confuse you with Ashley, and if you’re going to start making snap judgements at me, then I’m going to assume you’re here in bad faith, and proceed to no longer treat with you.

  10. D

    I should also add: If you haven’t seen the film, then attempting to decry it’s supposed flaws is a bit of an indefensible position. You’re working from assumption, speculation, and perhaps other people’s interpretations, without having seen it to make your own.

    I suppose it would help if I described the purpose of the “Sirens”.

    They outfit programs in their armor and other preparations for “the Games”.

    The games are something programs do not wish to enter into, because they imply almost certain death. Not a place of pleasure. Not a brothel, not a place you get hookers or prostitutes or any sort of such thing. They clearly do not exist for “male pleasure”, as you erroneously believe.

    They’re simply programs that provide the necessary weapons and armor to go into the games/do battle.

    A lot of your interpretations would be better served by having seen the film.

  11. Poe


    Very interesting review and I think you’re spot on. What I appreciated most about Tron: The Legacy was the male aspect. Neil Gaimen said books have genders, this film certainly did. I would never under normal circumstance invite a woman to this film for the reasons you mentioned. However, my best friend is married so that was unavoidable.

    We need more male films, replete with the archetypal Father quests, but please give us more than a pinup girl as the female lead and supporting actress. Even if they wanted to keep her role small they could have at least let Olivia do what Ellen Paige did for Dicaprio in Inception.

    Even the male bonding in this movie could have been better. How many years had it been since he had seen his son?

    “We’ll talk at dinner.”


  12. Poe

    Why are there two “forums” for this? I’ve been on the She-Thought website. I’ve posted twice and so far no one has responded. Someone take up the challenge 😀

  13. 16

    I’m just curious to why was’nt a white actress chosen to play the part of Quorra in the movie Tron? It’s very RARE for an Asian female to have such a big role in a blockbuster movie.

  14. 17

    You said everything I was thinking of and more. However, I was surprised that you didn’t mention Lora Baines (Bradley)/Yori. I haven’t watched/read any literature or video games that take place between the two movies, so I was more than miffed that they had not included her in Legacy. If you look up what happened, she dies (like all useless women) by a laser misfire in a lab. Only men survive.

  15. D

    If you look up what happened, she dies (like all useless women) by a laser misfire in a lab. Only men survive.


    For one, that’s from the plotline of the now-not-canon Tron 2.0 PC game.

    Secondly, the character she becomes is far from “useless”. Third, she wasn’t included in this movie because she would have been a pointless cameo for the sake of pointless cameos.

    There would have been no reason to include her, nor reason for Flynn to copy Yori to his Grid. Cameo just to shove in a familiar face is pointless.

    She was being optioned for the third film, should it happen, profits and whatnot for Legacy will determine that.

    Only men survive.

    The ending of Legacy sort of directly contradicts you, here.

  16. 19

    Hey Ashley, I have a great idea; Instead of constantly blathering on at this blog about the lack of roles for women, why not just start writing film scripts and getting them sold to Hollywood (or Indiewood)? There’s a woman of Middle Eastern extraction that’s made a movie about three Muslim women living in the Arab world and how they deal with being women living in the Middle East, and she’s making the rounds of most film festivals with her movie. Why don’t you and the other bloggers do this, instead of what you’re doing now?

    1. 19.1

      Hey DoucheCanoe, I have a great idea: Instead of being a troll, idiot, or incapable of reading, why don’t you actually figure out the purpose of the site your commenting on? You do realize that I’ve actually written scripts and am currently in the process of trying to sell or make them, right? If selling and making movies was that easy, I’ve had converted all of my screenplays into films by now, rather than optioning them and then waiting in development hell. The reason I give a shit about this stuff is because I’m working in this industry — I didn’t realize that all female bloggers were a monolith, that’s not insultingly dismissive of women in any way. That was sarcasm, by the way, I don’t want to go beyond your reading comprehension level. Why don’t you start stroking checks so people like me can do this, instead of what you’re doing now? Or do you maybe have the ability to see that getting $200k together to make an incredibly low-budget movie is slightly more difficult than wanting it?

      1. Then write said scripts instead of complaining.

        As for my reading comprehension, I comprehend just fine, thank you-I did not believe or agree with what I read, and though that it was bogus nonsense that had no bearing on the story presented in the movie. I think (since you’ve decided to insult me when I didn’t insult you) that I will say that it is you who doesn’t have the reading comprehension needed to understand the movie, and are just posting a critique you know will get a strong rebuttal from others, despite what other said about the thematic reasons for what happened on screen in Tron Legacy.

        I direct you to this essay about the movie which managed to sum up what it was that you missed in your rant:

        SPOILER ALERT !!

        Hola all. Massawyrm here.

        This is not my review of TRON: LEGACY, but rather my long promised further delving into the philosophical and political underpinnings of the film. For my spoiler free initial take on the film, click here.

        The first thing you need to wrap your mind around in order to understand what is going on in TRON: LEGACY is the nature of CLU. CLU isn’t Kevin Flynn; CLU is Kevin Flynn’s ambition – his youthful idealism – copied onto a computer and executed without the presence of a soul. While he possesses Flynn’s knowledge and keen intellect, he lacks his wisdom. For the sake of the narrative structure he is presented as a villain, though he has no truly malicious intent; he is merely mistaken. And he has been given one simple command: help Flynn build a perfect world. So what happens when a brilliant, dedicated, soulless program sets out to make a perfect digital world? The Grid happens.

        At its heart, TRON: LEGACY is the classic argument about the impossibility of utopia. The concept of utopia can be boiled down to two defining characteristics: the first is that it is a safe, healthy environment that both meets the needs of its occupants and protects them from coming to any unnatural harm; the second is that the occupants are free to act exactly as they wish to, without limit or constraint. In other words, we need to be able to do whatever we feel like doing without having to worry about anybody getting hurt. This is of course impossible. Allowing humans to do whatever they please creates a dangerous environment. End of story. So you have to ask yourself: if you were a soulless computer program charged with building a perfect world with imperfect parameters, which side would you err on?

        For CLU, this is relatively easy as he is only exposed at first to a single user (Flynn) and a series of programs, all of which can simply be reprogrammed or repurposed when they pose a threat to the harmony of the Grid. But when the ISOs (Isomorphic Algorithms) emerge unplanned from seemingly nowhere, he is confronted with a terrible dilemma. CLU realizes/believes that a perfect society should be unburdened by free will – after all, he himself has no real free will of his own; he is acting under the orders by which he was initially created and has faithfully served his duty for over 1200 years/cycles. ISOs are artificially intelligent creatures not at all unlike users; they are possessed of free will and a capacity to learn at a level which CLU lacks. So he orders the execution of what he sees as aberrations, resulting in a near total genocide. This, of course, is why CLU getting into our world is a bad thing – ISOs are digital humans, and CLU’s attempts to perfect our world would no doubt end in our extermination as well.

        To CLU, this is but a simple math problem and well within his programming; he even goes so far as to ask Flynn of his dedication to the original premise that they, together, are to create a perfect world. Flynn doesn’t realize what CLU is asking because Flynn isn’t really paying attention. And when CLU realizes Flynn’s lack of dedication to their original purpose, he decides that he must be removed from the equation.

        To make things even muddier, CLU has been given a second parameter to factor in. All information MUST be free. This is by far the more complicated issue TRON: LEGACY wrestles with – one many of us are wrestling with today. You see, there exists an argument that information not only wants to be free but that it should, in fact, be free to everyone. But what does that mean, exactly? Some argue this while downloading illegal copies of music and movies, ranting about the importance of Wikileaks, and copying and pasting news stories into their blogs. Of course, many of these same culture warriors are often the first to rise up and howl about Facebook taking their information (typed into the Facebook website) and selling it to others – because this is THEIR personal information and not someone else’s to trade in. It is a conundrum that vexes many, and is the driving force of the narrative in TRON: LEGACY.

        Kevin Flynn originally believed that information should be free and his son – following in his footsteps – begins the movie as an out and out information anarchist. This point is driven home so hard that the corporation Flynn the elder once owned is now chaired by a diabolical, mustache twirling CEO who jokes that the new version of their Operating System is only different because they put a higher number on the box. But don’t be fooled by this oversimplified display of the issue – it only exists to make Flynn the Younger seem heroic in his extremist views. The film, while initially on the surface seeming to be pro-piracy/anti-copyright, actually takes a sharp philosophical turn in the second act. Here’s where things get a little kooky. Flynn the Elder was a pretty hardcore information-for-all guy; that is until CLU came for his disc. The disc is everything, and its importance to the story exceeds being a simple McGuffin for the heroes to defend; it is the philosophical center of the film. It is Flynn’s identity; everything that is Flynn is on that disc, 1200 years of meditation and invention. And with it, CLU can do untold amounts of damage. CLU believes he has every right to it, because it is information and information MUST be free. But Flynn the Elder has had a change of heart; he knows the damage his knowledge and identity can cause in the wrong hands, and now he’s changed his mind. So now Flynn lives on the outskirts of his own grid (off the grid, if you will pardon Disney’s well concealed pun), completely cut off from the world in order to keep the information his own.

        The narrative through line of TRON: LEGACY is that of a hero who learns that nothing is as black and white as it seems and that the idea of information being free is a failed principle that looks good on paper but is dangerous in practice. (Does that sound more like the Disney you know and love than the whole pro-piracy thing does?) It is also very heavily focused upon the glory of imperfection – the idea that it is the sum of both our merits and our flaws that make us individuals – seen in the Grid as degradations in the programming which allow infected programs to think and act for themselves. Even at the end of it all, Kevin Flynn still loves his friend CLU and forgives him, because his flaws were Flynn’s own. This of course brings everything back around to what we’d expect from a conservatively rooted company, arguing that our freedom to make mistakes is a far better thing than forsaking that freedom for safety. We end up with a film touting the importance of the individual, and the necessity to keep our identities and information ours.

        So what of the complaints about TRON: LEGACY having no story? They’re horseshit. The reason the story seems so simple to many is because it is textbook Joseph Campbell. Rigidly so. Disney has long been a fan of the Hero’s Journey, and this film follows the 12 cinematic stages of that journey (as long ago laid out by Disney’s own Chris Vogler) TO THE LETTER and comes pretty close to all 17 stages of the Monomyth. Of course, most critics know the Hero’s Journey like the back of their hand and can recite it in their sleep, so watching a film like this that feels like Campbell might have written it himself can feel extraordinarily cliché. Once you plug in that Quorra is both Flynn the Younger’s “reward” as well as the “elixir” that can save humanity that he returns from the other world with, every bit of Campbell’s outline becomes painfully clear. The film is beat for beat Joseph Campbell. But that doesn’t mean that there is “no story”, just that you know the story very, very well.

        I dare anyone who still thinks TRON: LEGACY isn’t actually about anything to go back and see it again through this lens. The film is incredibly political, though not as overtly preachy as most politically charged science fiction. It plays around with some pretty big ideas and does so just out of earshot of the children as not to bog the film down like Lucas did with his prequels. But it’s there. And calling the film hollow or vacuous means you didn’t look much further than the visuals. See it again. Pick it apart. This film has a lot to say and has certainly set up an interesting mythology through which to tell some interesting stories.

        Until next time friends,

      2. You did and continue to insult me by saying that I’m not actually in the process of trying to change the things I’m complaining about. And again you fail in your reading comprehension, unless you are under the impression that one cannot both write blogs and screenplays or that analyzing films isn’t an important part of being able to make them.

        I’m not sure why the sexism has to have an impact on the story for it to be important. I wrote this because I was genuinely upset about the portrayal of women, I didn’t think it would be a particularly popular post. Your complaint seems to be that I didn’t value the story part of the film, which I didn’t, but your explaining doesn’t actually change the fact that women were portrayed shittily. Just because men think they can justify sexism doesn’t make it not sexist. Nothing in that long analysis even addresses that issue. In fact, it backs up my claims by describing Quorra as a reward. An object.

  17. 20

    Wow! I’m late to this party, but it’s an interesting read nonetheless. I finally got around to watching T:L this week and I’m re-watching it with my 9 year-old daughter. I can enjoy it as the mostly mindless action movie/eye candy that it is. Unfortunately, the eye/ear candy and nods to the original Tron and Bridges’ Lebowski are the only things making it tolerable.

    I consider myself a feminist and a geek and at least one of my daughters seems to be carrying the torch forward. So; I find myself in the role of gatekeeper – trying to find material that I consider appropriate or at least acceptable with a dose of discussion/reflection.

    That said, the points that Ashley brings up resonate closely with my own feelings about T:L. The first female characters that we see (apart from any extras in the boardroom) are the Sirens. And while Sam may look uncomfortable/awkward as they check him in, I couldn’t help but read it as them servicing him (and yes, I mean sexually). Now some will take issue with this interpretation, but such is the nature of alternative/subversive readings. Sure, everyone has skin-tight outfits, but Sam gets a layer of skin-tight body armor over his. But, he’s going to the games! you say. Fair point, but the whole thing is imaginary – there’s no reason that the Sirens couldn’t wear body armor too, or that everyone couldn’t look like characters from a Broadway musical or furries. The mechanical way the Sirens enter and exit struck me as odd, too. We don’t see any other programs backing into their cocoons – just a weird choice. Then, there’s the F-me, stripper pumps. You can’t justify those unless you’re willing to put Sam and Clu and everyone else in them. If the body armor serves to mark a program as a fighter in the games – the shoes serve no purpose other than to sexualize the Siren programs for the “male gaze”. Maybe that’s the canon explanation: Kevin recreated the grid in his own arrested adolescent subconscious image; so naturally it’s a male-dominated fantasy world where women are pretty objects, but no actual sex occurs. Realistically, the Sirens are just a nod to the largely adolescent male audience and the dad’s taking their kids to the movies.

    I would have loved to see Kevin’s daughter as the protagonist! Samantha Flynn, anyone? I don’t buy that the father/son archetype is the only way that this story could have worked. Fifty years ago, sure. But not in 2010. I can happily watch Forbidden Planet with my daughter and explain why the crew of the ship was all male when they made that movie or discuss why LOTR is long on male heroes and why the change to Eowyn’s character in the films is significant, but it’s a little depressing to have to yet again justify why a boy has to be the hero of another story where the protagonist’s sex really doesn’t matter.

    I don’t buy that Lori couldn’t have been a mentor to Sam (or Samantha). Canon or not. Sequels/prequels are created all the time that disregard or re-write previous works on the basis of it making a better story. They wrote in Dillinger’s son only to toss him aside like a fish wrapper (I expected him to turn up on the grid as a nemesis or something). Besides, we’re talking about Tron here. Neither movie is particularly long on plot. Before Legacy, there was what: one movie, an arcade game or two, a PC game and maybe some fan fiction? It has nothing like the decades of material and fan devotion behind Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, or Lord of the Rings. Like anyone in the mainstream audience really would care or notice that Lori was the mentor instead of Alan. What percentage of the entire Star Wars audience really cares that Han shot first? (I do, incidentally, but you get my point.)

    As far a programs looking like the people that wrote them; if you carry that reasoning forward, then you would have situations where a dev could write tens or hundreds of programs. Would they all look the same? Or what about programs that were collaborated on? Would they look like one person? Would they change? Would the person who contributed most win? What about the programs that are masked?

    I haven’t even gotten to Quorra, but I’ll quit for now.

    /oh, and I was disappointed that we didn’t see Bit, again.

    1. 20.1

      Sorry to disabuse you of that notion, but the Tron franchise does have a following-it had one since the original movie, and a ton of fans that love it to bits; otherwise there wouldn’t have been a sequel to it, four video games (IIRC), merchandise, etc. Just because you and Ms.Miller found fault with it doesn’t means that others haven’t been entranced by it after all of these years.

      And no, I don’t need to see Bit again, nor does anybody else. And the original premise of this review is still wrong.

  18. 21

    You need to look deeper into the storyline of this movie and not just stop when you see sexism on the surface. The failue to have a lead female role and thefact that the only female roles were «hyper-sexed» women plays into the sexis of Clu. Do you think that a program designed for perfection would allow an ugly, aged, or even fat woman to exist? Of course not! The only female programs he would deem «worthy» of living on the Grid were the ones that fit the sterotype of what men think perfect women are, to look sexy and not act in any «male» activies like identity disk fighting and light cycle racing. And don’any of you call this biased because I’m a guy! I lost all forms of sexism when I had my ass hamdedto me on a silver platter by a girl at the dojo in eight seconds.

  19. 22

    Valid criticisms, but kinda misses the point of the film. It’s meant to be about a relationship between father and son. Not father and daughter, not father and child, but specifically father and son.

    Plus, it’s pretty obvious the whole thing is meant to tie in to Christian theology: God the Father, who is creator and ruler; God the Son, who descends from Heaven to save the world from the influence of the fallen angel. Maybe the Holy Spirit was the mute Tron, or is meant to be seen in the perfection Quorra’s people (and that’s why she’s a wide-eyed innocent – she’s meant to be like Eve, and speak to the child-like innocence which Christians are meant to have before their parent, God).

    Anyway, you can’t take the father/son aspect out of that, or else it no longer speaks to the theology.

    Of course, I reckon what they should have done was to write the movie completely differently, leaving that stuff out of it, making it a rollocking adventure like the first movie. Then they could have more cleanly written female leads and female characters without detracting from any message they’d written into the film.

    1. 22.1

      Of course they chose to make the movie this way. It doesn’t change the fact that the movie is shitty about women, just like most geek culture films. They could have made many different choices and still had it reference theology — and more successfully, since I didn’t see that so much as just general Joseph Campbell — and I don’t see the fundamental difference of having a father/daughter relationship. Why couldn’t you reference to Jesus with a woman?

      Anyway, what is the message? Or do you just mean that thematic elements are messages?

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