Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Theology of Tron

Some might call this post's title an oxymoron.  I mean, sure, there was some religious symbolism in Tron, like most sci-fi, but does it really amount to a full-blown theology?  Read further after the preview below to explore how deep this rabbit hole goes.

[Note: This trailer gives you a better feel for the slower pace of this film.  Trailer #3 is more exciting and more plot-revealing.]

First, a disclaimer: I've only seen half of the original Tron, but did get an in-depth summary of the movie on Wikipedia.  As bad as the original was, it didn't stop me from being there with a few pals (there was one gal, just FYI) to see the midnight showing Thursday night of Tron:Legacy.  I can't say I'm an avid fan, but I do like exploring theological themes in movies.  (My favorite films in this regard are the Matrix films and Last of the Mohicans; also, FYI).  As such, I focus entirely on Tron:Legacy in my commentary.

For those of you wondering if you should ever see the new Tron movie (I'll be honest, the original might be worth seeing once and only once), let me say this: the special effects are cool but certainly not mind-blowing, the action sweet but not stellar, the storyline is generally slow with sparks of action, and the music keeps pace (Daft Punk did an excellent, but not saving, job).  All in all I would give it a good but not great rating for a Sci-Fi film, and overall a barely above-average film (if you're patient and pay attention to the dialogue).  If I hadn't waited hours to see this at midnight, I probably wouldn't be so favorable.  Many a friend have called it "lame," and I can't really argue with them.  My one-word review: enjoyable. Whether you plan to see it or not, I will try to keep out all spoilers until after the "Spoiler Alert" notice.

The movie opens with a typical Father-Son archetype.  The Father (Flynn) is a Creator of an entire virtual world, and it's pretty clear that the Son (Sam) will follow his father there.  Surprisingly, the Son isn't herald as a messiah for a world that's clearly enslaved.  It appears he's there to rescue his father, which is an interesting theological twist.  As such, the world of Tron sees the Son as a way to the father in order to usurp the Father/Creator's power for their own.  Again, another interesting theological twist on the traditional Christian take.  In both theological schema, the son is used to gain access to the Father, yet for completely different reasons.

Now some will say that the Father/Creator isn't really God-like because he appears in human form within the (cyber)world he created.  Yet he did author the world by writing the code that produced it, before entering in as a character.  So there is a little Father/Incarnate Person motif within the character of Flynn himself, who, by the way, describes his creation as "more beautiful than I ever dreamed, more dangerous then I could ever imagine."

Of course, the main observation people will notice is visually with the stylized neon colors: orange/red equals bad guys, and white/blue equals good guys, with a whole lot of black.  That's a little simplistic when you consider that a lot of the city in Tron is white/blue even though it's ruled by bad guys.  With all the darkness, one wonders where is the light?  Where is the sun?  Apparently there's no program for that, as the first question a cyber-character asks about the 'outside' aka real world is, What's the sun like?  Do all of these people live in Plato's cave?  Are they all children clamoring in darkness?

There's also an interesting story of creation between the Father figure (Flynn) and a partner he created called Clue (a mirror-image of Flynn who doesn't appear to age).  As a partner in creation, is Clue an Adam-figure?  I would say No, because Clue is given powers almost if not completely equal to the Creator.  As such, I would say Clue is more like a Satan figure.  A plug for the movie, sums up the basic plot line: Creator creates a world with limitless possibility.  What happened?  "My creation turned against me."  Indeed, at one point Clue/Satan yells to the heavens, "Kevin Flynn  [aka Creator/God]!  Where are you now?"  Can you hear the echoes of Nietzche's "God is Dead" claim?

The Son, Sam, is different, too.  We're not the only ones to realize this: the Tron women who dress him for battle note that, "This one is different."  He asks, "What am I suppose to do?"  and the simple reply he gets is "Survive."  This advice is important insofar as it keeps him alive until he finds a truer purpose.  Indeed, Sam is a "user," not a program, and the innovation is both exciting and frightening for the plebian crowds.  (The Grid scenes of disc fighting and lightcycle racing are very reminiscent of gladiator sport.)

One interesting juxtaposition is the cyberspace world created within the computer system and the 'world out there' aka real world.  Listen to the voice over for this TV Spot - can't you see churches saying "in there is our future, in there is our destiny," speaking of within these church worlds or perhaps "in Jesus Christ"?

Later in the movie, from within cyberspace they talk about conquering/converting the world "out there," purifying it to perfection.  Doesn't it resemble some churches and their missional theology?  I think we're better off seeing the two worlds "in there" or "out there" as interconnected.

Also with regard to the two worlds: Creator/Flynn says "I kept dreaming of a world I thought I'd never see."  How often do Christians dream of the heaven or the Kingdom of God, a world we think we'll never see, except maybe after death or with the second coming?


The end of the movie has the Son (Sam) escape with the last "Iso," Quorra, a creature born out complete within the Grid/Inner Cyberspace without any User/Programmer behind her code.  She is now out in the real world, and it appears she will become a prophet for the age to come.  Sounds like a pseudo-Jesus figure, no?

Returning to the Creator/Satan, Flynn/Clue dichotomy, I found it really cool that in the end Flynn the Father saves Sam the Son from Clue the Anti-Christ by absorbing him into himself.  Many Christians will often talk about Jesus taking on the sin of the world.  What about God taking on the sin of the world?  That's really what we're saying, after all, if we are to also claim Jesus as the Son of God, or rather, God Incarnate.  Flynn the Father uses his power to produce/send out his creation, and then he uses his power to absorb it all back into himself, thus destroying it.  But not without planting a seed in the new world, a "shoot of Jesse" if you will, in Quorra, an original digital creation now living as a sentient being in the 'real world.'

So what do you think?  There's plenty of other themes I didn't touch upon yet, including identity disks, the light beam connecting the 'heavens and the earth' almost a la Sauron in LotR, the outpost away in the mountains from the city, Flynn's Zen practice [best line of movie: "Sam, you're really messing with my Zen thing."], and what about Tron himself?  What do all these things represent/symbolize?


Anonymous said...

I really think the movie is worth seeing more than once. I can't think of a movie that has more themes going on in it than this one. And every time I watch, I pick up some new details. There are some scenes in here that are excellent, classic if you will. Garrett Hedlund is amazing in his role, his expressions without saying anything, a real talent, and so is Jeff Bridges and Olivia Wilde, all well played and cast. I can't last all the themes, but just a few are: evil/good, father/son, human/non-human, programs/users, self/others, orignal/duplicate, damnation/redemption, in/out, open/closed, light/dark, loyalty/betrayal, creation/destruction, and on and on. The only questions or problems I have are as follows:
1. When Sam enters the portal, he emerges right in the city, but once inside, to get to "the portal" he has to travel way outside that area. 2. I get how somehow might create a digital representation of an organic form, a simulation if you will, but the other way is more difficult to understand. How do you turn a pure digital representation into an organic form? It would seem that what you'd have to create is something more than a laser beam pointing at the back of a chair. To convert digital into organic, you'd need something that can convert code into cells, and I don't think the movie did a good job of explaining how that might work. 3. The idea of Quorra is very interesting. An isomorphic algorithm. But again, how could she converted to an organic form if she was born out of a completely digital world. It would seem that you would need some kind of 3D printer that could convert code into cells or pattern cells into human beings. 4. I also found it interesting how Clu, who apparently can't stand imperfection, seemed to tolerate so many imperfections. He had hardly created the perfect world. Castor was a shrewd and devious individual, and so were the minions around him, especially Jarvis, his right hand man. So I didn't get why Clu, who committed genocide on the ISOs because they weren't perfect, then seemed to allow so much imperfection in his perfect world. That part didn't add for me.
But aside from these points in the story, not the movie, everything else I thought was very thoughtful and intelligent. It gives you much to think about and for that reason, I think it is worth owning and watching again and again.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Ponderlicious! Yes, I agree - it is a movie worth returning to for its nuanced portrayal of these various universal themes. There is a lot of duality in the movie, and yet also a sense of transcendence with the zen-like 'tude Jeff Bridges gives to the father figure. And I agree, too, that they don't really explain the location differences of the portals, the digital-to-organic creation and the imperfection. I would venture to guess it takes a lot of energy to move through one world to the next, and so this energy must be located in a certain place (like a high-energy portal). Can cells be coded? And code into cells? In theory, perhaps, but generating cells out of machines (and instantly, no less) wasn't explained. And I suppose imperfections are like beauty - in the end of the beholder. Again, Thank you for sharing.