Given that Red Sparrow is a spy thriller set in Russia, one could mistake the whole thing to take place during the Cold War. Even though it takes place in modern times, and the spies use mostly modern technology, a crucial, tension-riddled scene uses some seriously vintage tech: floppy disks. Director Francis Lawrence says there’s a real reason why.
Minor spoilers for Red Sparrow ahead.
Halfway through Red Sparrow, ballerina-turned-Russian spy Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) teams up with CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), and together they concoct a plan to keep American secrets from being sold to the Russians. The intel, however, are all stored on floppy disks — yes, floppy disks. The same ones we learned not to copy (that floppy).
In an interview with Inverse, director Francis Lawrence explained why there are government secrets on the same media everyone used to play Tetris before the GameBoy came to existence.
“It’s actually something that is used a fair amount in places like the DOD and CIA,” Lawrence tells Inverse. “They don’t want important information to be on super small storage devices. Those are easy to hide. If you have important information you want them on something a bit bulky, maybe even a bit outdated that you need to have special drives.”
As it turns out, old tech makes great security. “It’s an extra layer of protection,” Lawrence adds.
Until 2017, the Pentagon reportedly used floppy disks for things like, oh, nuclear weapons. In a May 2016 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the control systems for U.S. nuclear arms — including “intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts” — still ran on an IBM Series 1, a 1970s system that used floppy disks. The report called for modernization of these systems by fiscal year 2017.
Popular throughout the 1970s, floppy disks peaked in the Nineties in 3.5-inch builds with the top of the line consumer versions containing a whopping 1.44 megabytes of memory. Computer manufacturer Dell stopped including floppy drives in their computers in 2003, but it seems floppies have limped on well into the 21st century.
The director even spoke with his screenwriter, Justin Haythe, over whether or not there should be a line answering why in the fresh hell they’re using floppy disks when one can pack more gigabytes of data on a Nintendo device. But ultimately, it was cut. “We actually debated for awhile to have a bit of exposition on that but we ended up cutting that scene.”
Red Sparrow is in theaters now.