The TRON Aesthetic: The Atari Age of German Expressionism

Posted by Charles Reece, October 25, 2008 01:38pm | Post a Comment
The magnificent scenes of heroism, transcendence and man dominating his surroundings should please the most masculinist among us, including Ayn Rand and Leni Riefenstahl:

Jeff Bridges Flynn Tron
Bruce Boxleitner Tron
Jeff Bridges Flynn Clu Tron
Bruce Boxleitner Tron
Tron battle Jeff Bridges Clu

The close-ups all have that overly melodramatic silent-era quality to them. Note the way Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has Valentino eyes and Sark (David Warner) looks like a Conrad Veidt villain:

Tron Jeff Bridges Clu
Tron David Warner Sark

The neon destruction is one of the best visual features of TRON, and I particularly love the Art Deco explosion of the light cycle running into the wall:

Tron light cycle
tron light cycle destruction
tron david warner sark beaten
tron explosion

Here are some be-yoo-tee-ful shots of various control chambers:

tron sark control room
tron tanktron tank control

These next three shots are probably the result of Moebius's designs, but in terms of color and shading, the first two remind me of Fleischer Studio's Superman cartoon (itself borrowing heavily from German Expressionism):

tron glider
tron glider
tron cindy morgan yori barnard hughes dumont

This next series points to the way TRON takes the acute Expressionistic angles and frequently pushes them towards abstraction. As can be seen in the third shot, those same angles are used in the realworld, as well:

tron building structure
tron building structure
tron office building

Undoubtedly, the grid is the most recurring motif in the film (just look at the shots above). Despite the sheer daftness of TRON's storyline, the film provides a persistent visual critique of modern existence under technology centering on the grid. The realworld doesn't look all that different from the simulated one, just in duller, Modernist colors. If anything, the oppression of the office cubicles is far more of a labyrinthine mindfuck than the prison in TRON (Bruce Boxleitner)'s world. This use of office space here is every bit the equal to that in Billy Wilder's The Apartment and Jacques Tati's Playtime:

tron office building cubicle
tron prison guard

Little wonder that so many prefer escaping reality into videogame simulacra. Where would you rather be, with Lora (Cindy Morgan) in her lab, or with her cyberpunk avatar, Yori?

tron lora laboratory
tron cindy morgan yori

Thus, when Flynn gets reconstructed by the Master Control Program (MCP; Warner again) into the world of cyber-spectacle, the film visually suggests there's little ontological difference between the two states, online versus offline -- on or off the grid. Life itself has become a simulation:

tron jeff bridges flynn mcp
tron digital mind scape
tron office building
tron helicopter

Despite the standardized happy ending where modern life has been saved from the evil MCP, the time-lapse photography of the city at daytime turning into night before the credits roll suggests something else, namely that we're never too far away from the oppressive regime of the MCP. Note how similar the night-time city is to the mindscape travel sequence of the title sequence:

tron cindy morgan lora jeff bridges flynn city
tron city night
tron digital grid mind scape cyber

[Click on images to enlarge.]

Relevant Tags

Oppression (2), Jeff Bridges (4), Cindy Morgan (1), Moebius (3), David Warner (1), Bruce Boxleitner (1), Beauty (1), Tron (7), Video Games (26), Control (7), Aesthetics (6), German Expressionism (4)