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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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6 Responses leave one →
  1. December 19, 2010

    I just got home from seeing "Tron" with my grandson. (It wasn't my choice- we had seen the other films that were showing). Much of the religious allusion is out of my range to comment, but I was struck by the notion that this is undoubtedly a conservatively themed film. I wondered if the creators were aware of it.
    Note how the efforts to create a utopia lead to purges, conformity, and tyranny. The bad guys are even trimmed in communist red. Note the good guys: Rugged individuals, acting with the willingness to sacrifice for each other. (but not for the utopia) Note the father- son love… No cursing, no sexual innuendo.( the lead actress is mesmerizing, though. I couldn't keep my eyes off her)

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      December 20, 2010

      That's just it. I hate to come off so cynical, but you have to ask yourself how such an ostensibly conservative narrative could come out of Hollywood. I submit the reason is because a poison pill is couched within. If you can plant the seed in people's minds that creation has "a mind of its own," and God isn't really necessary to the maintenance of our world, it matters not what else you cloak it in. Whatever else Tron is, it is also New Age propaganda.

      • December 20, 2010

        Wow, that's quite a leap from 'filled with religious allegory' to 'evil propaganda which will turn us into godless liberals.' It's incredible that in your mind, simply discussing ideas like Deism or an alternate interpretation of the Judo-Christian narrative is dangerous or 'poisonous.'

        As to the actual substance of your article, I agree with much of your interpretations, though your use of the word 'New Age' is about as wrong as one can get; Deism, Gnosticism, and Adonism all predate the New Age movement by centuries, and contain most of the ideas you see in the Tron movie.

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          December 20, 2010

          New Age is an intentional misnomer. There's nothing new about it. It is merely the repacking of very old ideas. It's objective is ecumenical, the blending of all faiths into one where the only sin is exclusivity. Deism, Gnosticism, Adonism, all will be equally "right" in the coming "enlightenment."

          You're not required to share my worldview. However, it makes perfect since that a Bible-believing Christian would find ecumenical propaganda destructive.

  2. December 31, 2010

    Either way I liked the article itself and I noticed a lot of religious messages in the movie. Your last sentence sums it up well!

  3. January 3, 2011

    Well, I did notice these also. I think that people will see what they want to see. I didnt think of Quorra as the church though, I thought of her as Mary Magdalene. Anyway, this is a Science Fiction film. Science has never been on the side of Religion, so this wouldn’t surprise me. Science and religion are opposing views usually. I didn’t realize how tame the movie was till I read this, but It did drag and I fell in and out of sleep a few times.

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