I think it’s possible to accuse me of sometimes seeing too much religious/biblical symbolism in contemporary movies: but in the case of the new Tron Legacy movie (2010), any Sunday-schooler can see that religious themes have been blatantly incorporated: a programmer creates an artificial world that gets away from him, his creations rebel against him, his son will need to come and save everybody – obviously there are some Christian parallels here. The fun part will be to explore how far the similarities go, how to interpret each character, and of course ridicule a few things that don’t make any sense.
Technology savant Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) built ‘the grid’; an online computer system, that he could actually enter into. But because he couldn’t be there all the time, he created a ruler in his own image, named “Clue”, and told him to help him build “the perfect system”. But then a miracle occurred. While Flynn was playing around, trying to build perfection, a new life form spontaneously developed all by itself.
You created them?
No. they manifested. The conditions were right and they came into being.
They were called “Isotopes”. Clue saw the Isotopes as an imperfection, so he stages a rebellion against Flynn, and keeps him from returning through the portal to the real world, which can only be opened from the outside. Flynn fought at first, but realized “He fed on my resistance. The more I fought, the more powerful he became”. So he spends his time meditating and waiting. Flynn is protecting two things: Quorra, the last isotope, the fruition of all his work (Olivia Wilde) and his “Disk” – the master key to everything.
There is also the figure of “Tron” himself; unfortunately we don’t get to know a lot about him. He is Flynn’s early creation from another program, a powerful fighter, but he joins Clue in the rebellion the “tyrrany of the users”.
Upon this scene comes Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), Kevin’s now grown-up son; after a mysterious pager text is sent out Sam accidentally finds a way into the grid. Later, we discover that it was Clue who somehow lured Sam in:
Who got you here? Clue got you here. He wanted a new piece to change the game. With you he got more than he ever dreamed. It’s his game now, the only way to win is not to play.
So let’s start some theological deconstruction. Kevin of course represents God, and Clue is Satan. So far, the rebellion of God’s greatest creation (Satan was highest of God’s angels) during the miraculous birth of God’s new creatures (Isotopes=humans) is a precise fit. Satan’s rebellion was never an attempt, as is commonly believed, to overthrow God or become more powerful. Satan’s rebellion occurred when God ordered him to worship a lower life form – humanity. The Tron version of this event makes more sense than the biblical one. If humanity was an “accident”, a miracle, it is understandable why God would love and want to protect them so much (as opposed to Satan, his other creation, which he damns forever). I also like how Tron exonerates Clue: Flynn built him to make the perfect system; as a created being, he’s doing exactly what he’s programmed to do.
I did everything. Everything you ever asked. I executed the plan. I created the perfect system.
In Tron, Flynn owns up to his responsibility and apologizes to Clue. “No no, he’s made. I screwed it up.” Why is this not the case with God and Satan? Satan cannot help to do exactly as he did: angels were never given free will! Satan’s rebellion was inevitable, and – unless God is a cold-hearted deliberate asshole – it was caused by a lack of foresight: a mistake.
So then comes Sam – the “Son of the User”; Sam is Jesus. But this opens up a whole bunch of questions about Jesus’ role. Did Jesus come to earth because Satan tricked him somehow? We could argue that God and Satan were stuck in a perpetual battle, a stand-off. Jesus recognized this and decided to come into the world freely, changing the game. He is aided by rebels like Zeus (an old program, which then betrays him) and a hot robot girl (“Jem” – Beau Garrett). Why or how these programs can resist is unclear, as is what they were designed for, apart from chilling in a club and looking sexy.
Clue is doing exactly what he was made to do – destroy imperfection. He massacred the isotopes. God intervened to save the last one, Quorra. “Just when everything was going dark, the creator, your father, he saved me.” Clue can’t create programs; he can only destroy or repurpose them. This is still fitting with the Christian epic: Satan is intent on destroying or tempting humans. In a Nazi-esque speech, Clue preaches “we have rid it (the Grid) of its imperfections, not to mention rid it of the false deity who sought to enslave us. Unlike our selfish creator, I will make their world open and available to all of us.”
There is a battle and a race to the portal. Flynn/God sacrifices himself to save Quorra and Sam. Satan/Clue says “You knew I’d beat you. And still, you did all this? For him?” And so, Sam/Jesus descended into the world to save humanity; God’s greatest-but-accidental work. When they’ve escaped, God/Flynn takes all things into himself in the “Great Resolution”; the whole world, including God, gets erased; but the Son and the saved humans are somewhere else, somewhere more real.
This goes a little behind typical Christian theology and is more similar to the Stoic “Great Conflaguration” and eastern mysticism. Someday, the world will end and all will become one; but those who have united with the Logos/Son of God, who descends into the world, will be saved, and be given new bodies. This, then, is the basic religious symbolism behind Tron Legacy 2010.
But there are a few more points of interest: While Quorra is giving the background story on the destruction of the Isotopes, they show a picture of a great tower being destroyed. But think carefully – did Satan, in the Bible or anywhere else – ever really kill, massacre or attack humanity? NO. Who knocked down the Tower of Babel? God. Who caused the Flood? God. Who Tormented the Egyptians and massacred the people inhabiting Israel in order to make room for his superior, chosen race? God. There is a deep injustice in failing to recognize that if God exists, he is in control and hence responsible for our suffering; and that this is explicitly stated over and over in the Bible. We also learn from Tron that God is scared, imperfect, unsure of what to do, slow to move but quick to anger. Flynn spends his time pretending to meditate but then gets angry and shouts at his son, in one of the few terrible lines of the movie “You’re messsing with my zen thing man.” Sam is the one of action, who actually saves everybody.
Is Tron a Christian movie? Well – no. Not exactly. Although most people will be mostly aware of these motifs from their familiarity with Christianity, you could find these basic symbols in many other cosmologies. Clue seems more like the Gnostic “Demiurge” perhaps than Satan; and the story of the Logos coming down to save the Sophia/wisdom in humanity is also more Gnostic, although it is available (but hidden) in regular Christian theology. And by making the creator responsible for evil, it is morally superior and far more satisfying than the Christian mythos, which blames everything on Satan and absolves God from responsibility.
Finally, who the hell is Tron? He’s an early program, that joins the rebellion against Flynn – but at the last moment, he changes his mind and decides to fight for Flynn, “Tron fights for the users.” WTF? Programs can’t change their minds arbitrarily, or learn and grow as we would expect from the Isotopes. He doesn’t seem to fit in the biblical reading of the Tron Legacy movie. Maybe I’m missing something, but I just can’t seem to place Tron anywhere. Any thoughts?
A more heretical commentary by Baron and a cool picture:
“With Tron Legacy, Disney abandons its Christian roots, its Biblical tales such as Moses and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Instead it preaches a new atheist message for new generation of unbaptised console playing bastards. That message is that God is dead, there is no Satan. These are mere figures of classic literature. And that future threats can come only from Man himself, with the reveal of the young Ed Dillenger… the likely antagonist of the next film.”