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The Religious Legacy of “Tron”

Posted on December 18 2010 9:30 pm
Walter Hudson is a political commentator and co-founder of Minnesota's North Star Tea Party Patriots, a statewide educational organization. He runs a blog entitled Fightin Words. He also contributes to True North, a hub of Minnesotan conservative commentary. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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Featuring computer graphics which where state-of-the-art in 1982, Disney’s Tron became a cult classic among science fiction fans. While the film has not aged well, its high-concept has contributed to its endurance.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Tron was its role as religious allegory. The film depicted a computer-generated world where programs were created in the image of their human users. Those users were thus viewed as deities from the programs’ perspective. The villains in the film were aberrant programs who sought to wrest control of the system in which they operated. To this end, they propagated the idea that the users did not exist. When programmer Kevin Flynn is pulled into their digital realm, he takes on the role of religious avatar, challenging the programs’ paradigm.

The long-awaited sequel, Tron: Legacy, takes the allegory much further. The Judeo-Christian references are quite bold for a modern Hollywood production. Yet the writers are clearly not attempting to evangelize a particular faith. Quite the contrary, the religious legacy of Tron is an ecumenical mix of various faiths which dispenses with the notion of an all-powerful God. The film suggests that creation is an unpredictable phenomenon which can baffle and surpass its creator. As we consider how this plays out, be warned, there will be spoilers.

Jeff Bridges reprises his role as computer programmer Kevin Flynn. The film opens with the revelation that Flynn disappeared in 1989, leaving behind his only son Sam. We then fast-forward to the modern day when Sam is prompted by new evidence to look into his father’s disappearance. The elder Flynn’s last known location is revealed to be a secret subterranean computer lab where an old mainframe has been running continuously for several years. A few keystrokes later, Sam is ripped from our world into the digital domain known as The Grid.

The Judeo-Christian narrative is evoked immediately upon Sam’s arrival among the programs. Spoken of in hushed tones as “the Son of Flynn”, Sam is regarded variously with fear, reverence, and hatred. We learn that a program named Clu, made in the elder Flynn’s image, turned against his creator in order to craft a “perfect system.” The parallels are clear. Flynn stands in for God. Sam is the Christ, come to reconcile creation with the creator. Clu fulfills the role of Lucifer.

The links don’t end there. Perhaps the most intriguing Judeo-Christian parallel is between the nation of Israel, the Christian church, and the program Quorra. She is the last of a unique race of programs called ISOs (pronounced eye-so). Regarded as an aberration by Clu, a threat to his would-be perfect system, the ISOs are mercilessly hunted down and destroyed. Quorra is the sole survivor, protected by Kevin Flynn until she finds her salvation in his son Sam.

While there is clearly an attraction between Sam and Quorra, it is noteworthy that they never engage sexually. They don’t so much as kiss. Instead, they display a wholly innocent affection. Quorra looks on Sam with adolescent infatuation, as if she wouldn’t know what to do with him if she had him. Sam meanwhile treats Quorra, not as a potential conquest, but as a treasured companion. Their relationship models the biblical one between Christ and his church. Quorra, who has spent her time until now under the tutelage of Kevin Flynn, is now ready to embrace his son and thus transcend to the reality of the users.

Next: A befuddled god…

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