If you have a geek who is close to your heart …
and you can’t understand this holiday season they are going gaga for

Tron Legacy

read on to learn why this movie is like catnip to developers, and why you and many others (like film critics) won’t love this movie the way your programming spouse or partner will.

It’s not because the hero is a programmer

When I asked Tannis (my wife) why she thought Tron Legacy was such a hit with geeks, she said it should be obvious.

  • It’s a movie about computers.
  • The hero is a programmer.
  • It’s got beautiful women.
  • And it’s got some incredible special effects.

Good points I said. Those things would all appeal to geeks and developers. But that’s not why I loved this movie. There was something more to it than that. Something beyond the special affects and pretty people.

It had something to do with the way programmers work and what they feel when when they turn on computer and sit down to work. It had something to do with that metaphor of the grid.

Enter the grid

The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. What did they look like? Ships? Motor cycles. Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I think I would never see. And then … one day … I got in! – Kevin Flynn

The Grid is a world created in the movie by programmer Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges). It’s a beautiful, perfect, pristine world where every last detail is created in his own making. The buildings, the highways, the infrastructure, the games. Everything is exactly as he sees fit.

You can imagine what this must feel like. To be able to inhabit and live in a world that you created! If you saw something you didn’t like something, you simply changed it. If you need something that didn’t yet exist … poof! You just create it.

Developers love this movie because what Kevin Flynn does and experiences on the grid is exactly what they feel when they program.

When developers program they enter a world of their own (just like the grid).
It’s a world where they enter a world where they are in full control.
Their word is law. Whatever they say goes.

There is no need to compromise.
They don’t have to ask for permission.
They are free to build, create, their worlds however they see fit.

It’s a powerful, intoxicating, addictive feeling that comes from having that much control over ones environment.

To the naked eye, writing code looks like nothing more than a man or woman starting at a screen and typing for hours on end.

What they don’t see is the beauty, inner battles, spontaneity, creativity, and relentless pursuit for perfection all happening behind the scenes. All they see is a mouse and a key board.

And this is why so many programmers deeply relate to this movie. They know what it is like to enter the grid.

They second reason this movie affected is so great is because at it’s heart it’s really a father son story.

We’re always on the same team

Joseph Kosinski did a great job developing the father son relationship between the father Kevin Flynn and his son Sam. It’s a story about separation, sacrifices, hope, and redemption.

It worked for me because as I was watching Tron, I was really cheering for these characters. I really wanted to see Sam be reunited with his father. I wanted them to both make it to back to the real world.

But some of my favorite scenes are right at the beginning of the movie (you can see it in the first 10 secs of the trailer below) when Kevin Flynn saying good night to his then 7 year old boy Sam before he disappears for twenty years into the grid.

Flynn: What do you say, you and I tomorrow hit the arcade? First game’s on me.
Sam: Can we play doubles? On the same team?
Flynn: We’re always on the same team 🙂

As a father who regularly games with his sons, this pulled on my heart in a huge way. It made me want to just pick up my boys, fire up Star Craft II and start taking over worlds together as only fathers and sons can.

So this movie hit me on two levels. One part with knowing what it’s like to enter the grid and create your own world in your making. And secondly as a father who deeply loves his kids and could only imagine the pain of what it must be like to be separated from them.

So don’t be disappointed if your spouse or loved on can’t get enough of this movie and try as you might you just aren’t there too. This movie is not for everyone.

But if they ever do make a third installment in the franchise, me and my boys will be there.