After seeing the action spectacle of Tron: Legacy within several days of seeing the cinematic spectacle of Black Swan I had an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. Yes, neither film has much in common with each other. There’s little narrative overlap, the characters aren’t similar and the filmmaking sensibilities are on opposing ends of the spectrum. However, two of their characters share an overriding trait: a drive for perfection.
Now before Black Swan fans decry reducing the film to such a simple statement, it must be said that there is far more narrative and thematic complexity going on in one quarter of Black Swan than the entirety of Tron: Legacy. The conflict of innocence and evil, the sexual undercurrent and professional drive all bring up a myriad of issues to wade through. However, the fact remains that the film literally concludes with the statement “I was perfect.” Therefore, the element Black Swan chose to draw emphasis to as the key element the audience should leave the theater with is the idea of achieving perfection.
In Black Swan the drive to be perfect is instilled in the professional ambition of Nina (Natalie Portman), the young and naïve ballet dancer who is given an unlikely dual role: the black and white swan in a production Swan Lake. For Tron: Legacy, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is the one who seeks perfection in his own creation and he recounts the story to his son.
In order to achieve perfection, both characters reach dark realizations. For Nina, it’s the fact that she must embrace her humanity fully, the darkest desires she’s repressed through her innocence, that which makes her weak and unable to fully express herself. The problem is that this drive becomes masochistic. It proves not only emotionally traumatizing but also requires a physical destruction as it is the only way she can embrace the role and perform it perfectly.
For Flynn, the revelation is that his dreams of a perfect world and all it can achieve fail to reflect the imperfection within himself. He creates a virtual version of himself, Clu, and instills within him only one desire: to make a perfect world. Clu comes to the inevitable conclusion that Kevin Flynn cannot exists in the perfect world and seeks to destroy him.
The relevance of this proves far more compelling than the simple act of performance art. The inherent flaw Nina’s logic of Black Swan is the notion that a performance must be perfect. The film goes to great lengths to portray as an imperfect character. She starts off seemingly docile and innocent, but her darker side begins to emerge, her deepest desires become her undoing.
In Tron: Legacy, most of the film takes place inside a virtual world. For many, the promise of a virtual world is the promise of an artificial life that proves better than their own because it offers the perfect experience: an experience free from the troubles of their own life. Black Swan can never offer that escape and neither can Tron: Legacy. Too much of the individual is invested in each world to achieve perfection.
Black Swan ends with Nina dying, muttering “I was perfect.” Perhaps it’s meant ironically, but give how the film literally transforms Nina into the Black Swan during her performance, it highly unlikely. Nina is perfect but at the cost of her life and, more importantly, her soul. The quest for perfection ends in destruction because perfection cannot persist in an imperfect being.
Tron: Legacy comes to quite a different conclusion. Kevin Flynn discovers that his desire to be perfect blinded him to true perfection. He makes this statement as he looks on his son, the implication obvious. Later on, Sam tries to describe a sunset to Quorran (Olivia Wilde), an alien being, who has never seen the real world. It fails his description, but doesn’t dissuade Quorran’s desire to see it.
For Tron: Legacy, perfection cannot be found in the achievements of man. Such exercise proves futile as an imperfect being cannot create perfection. But perfection is out there, waiting to be found, beyond the feats of man however marvelous or majestic. It’s in ever sunset, it’s in the bond between a father in son and the expression of the inexpressible. And if you don’t look, you’ll miss it, we’re just too busy, to wrapped up in our own narcissistic human pursuits, like Nina, to ever see the light of day.