Tron and Beauty for Beauty’s Sake
I went to go see Burlesque last night with my buddy, and while this post is not about that movie at all, it brought us to an interesting discussion. Can a film still be “good” while choosing looks over substance?
A lot of people would say no, and that’s why critics hate big musical numbers and Xtina Aguilera.
My buddy and I say yes! And I’ll tell you why: Tron.
Tron is a cult favorite, it has a huge following now given the rise of computers and programmer culture. But when that movie came out it was only a moderate success, not a flop, but not widely popular. Critics panned it as being substanceless and a showy arrogant display of technology.
Roger Ebert put it just right in my opinion, and made a remarkable point for all films who chose or choose beauty over brains:
A dazzling movie from Walt Disney in which computers have been used to make themselves romantic and glamorous. Here’s a technological sound-and-light show that is sensational and brainy, stylish, and fun
Everybody talks about how groundbreaking the film was in regards to computer animation in film-making. It was so groundbreaking that the Academy refused to nominate it for any effects awards because using computers was “cheating.” The irony of that has been beaten to death by every Tron fan I’ve ever met. I think the point isn’t that it’s ground breaking for technology, but rather that it stands as a strong defender of film aestheticism.
I’m sure a bunch of geeks would hiss and boo me for even suggesting that Tron’s plot is flimsy, but come on, really? The plot has to be flimsy so we can be transported into layers of metaphor and personification.
Software is given a wonderfully imagined face and form. The good is blue, the bad is red. As a Cal fan, I can’t argue with that, but the binary of it all (while hilariously appropriate in this sentence) is what separates it from towering standards of story construction.
But who gives a fuck? I don’t. But that’s because I’m all about being a new kind of critic who analyzes works based on their intentions and their successes. The faults are ancillary in my mind. This method allows me to enjoy pretty much everything.
So I’m not ashamed to say that I like pretty, shiny, spectacular things. Maybe it’s a gen-Y thing. I like tits, glitter, and explosions.
I’m going to see Tron: Legacy opening weekend. I am very excited for it, but unlike a lot of geeks I am avoiding plot spoilers as much as physically possible. I have watched no trailers. I have read no news.
I don’t care about the plot. I am not going into this to be moved by character development and complex layered narratives. Not every movie can be The Dark Knight (Though I am avoiding spoilers for the third film for completely different reasons.)
Movies that are vain are like people that are vain. I don’t think it’s necessary to hate them. There’s really nothing wrong with vanity. There’s nothing wrong with being beautiful and being shameless about it.
But critically, culturally, vanity is a mortal god-damn sin. We are expected through some kind of mutant protestant ethic to be humble. But really, it’s not humility that’s expected. It’s self-deprecation, self-flagellation. We need to pursue being beautiful on the inside, being learned and thrifty and selfless.
Tron is a movie that I think gives us the best argument for getting dolled up once in a while and strutting around. Tron is built on the back of substance. Computer technology is amazingly complex and remarkable. The fact that I can write to people in plain English as translated by complex binary communication and electricity is mind-blowing. The internet may as well be made out of wishes and gypsy tears for as much as I understand its makeup.
Tron made up its makeup. Tron made computers beautiful and thrilling, wonderful to look at and hard to forget. It was so glorious. It jumped off from the substance and looked so great that it didn’t need to be smart. It didn’t need to be beautiful on the inside.
We’re all adults, here, people. We don’t have to answer to anybody about our characters and what we like. We can look at tits, glitter, and explosions all alone by ourselves and giggle and awe, so we can do it outside at the theater, too. We can also resist the urge to trash things that are prettier than us. We can resist the urge to be the intellectual geeks who hate the hot people flexing and jiggling on MTV and just say, “Hey, they’re stupid, but I’m just gonna mute this while I beat off.”
So I’m going to go see Tron: Legacy in the exact same way I saw Burlesque, with absolutely no expectations of conversation, revelation, or intellectualism. That’s because you don’t fall in love with the strippers.
Geek culture can have some eye-candy, too. It can have some camp. It can have some vanity.
Thanks, Tron, for allowing my nerd arrogance to include more than my brain.