From the first trailer forward, I couldn’t wait to get to the theatre to see Tron: Legacy. If, by some odd chance, you have haven’t seen it yet, I recommend you do so in 3D. Visually, the movie is spectacular. From a story perspective, though, it just doesn’t stand up to the original.
Now, in making the confession I’m about to make, I recognize that I will lose some serious geek cred with many readers. In the interest of truth, however, the admission must be made: I had not watched the original in so long that there were some nuances to the story that had faded from my memory. In fact, I knew that there were references going on that I should have been able to catch, but that were escaping me.
This prompted a search for a copy of the original, as I realized I could no longer be a true geek without the original movie in my library. I pre-ordered the most current re-release from Amazon, and watched with family and fellow fans last week.
And, oh, the things you see in things you haven’t seen for a while.
(I’m going to assume in what follows that you’ve seen the original Tron. If not, stop reading right now and go fix that. Seriously. Go.)
Immediately upon Flynn’s arrival in the world of the computer, one program asks another if he believes in the Users. The second program replies that he has to believe in the Users…otherwise, how could he be there if no one had written him? The “bad guys” of the MCP ridicule those who believe in the Users as engaging in silly religious superstition. Yet, Tron is driven (cheesy dialogue notwithstanding) to make contact with his User, the one that wrote him. This contact must take place at an I/O tower (Input/Output…remember, they’re in the virtual world when it was just beginning to be a virtual world). Upon making contact with his User, Tron is given the power to destroy the evil MCP and restore balance to his world.
Another critical element of the story is Flynn. Flynn is of our world, and is taken by the MCP into the world of the computer. Of course, the metaphor breaks down very quickly, but its difficult to not find incarnational imagery there.
The fact that Tron is about the triumph of faith over the attempts of those in power to destroy it escaped me when I watched the movie as a child. At that point, it was simply an amazing special effects extravaganza, the likes of which I had never before witnessed. Indeed, the movie was visually far ahead of its time. Moreover, though, Tron predicted, as good science fiction does, the world that was coming, and the danger of the computer world enslaving its creators to its bidding. This is not a new theme in science fiction, of course, but Tron portrayed it so much more realistically…futuristic, but so near-future as to be entirely plausible in the viewer’s mind.
The programs who are enslaved persist in their belief in the Users. When realizing that Flynn is a User, Tron assumes that everything he is doing is “according to a plan, right?” Flynn discounts this, saying that improvisation is his strategy. Tron is in disbelief, insisting, “That’s the way it is for programs, yes.” Flynn counters with, “Well, I hate to break it to ya, pal, but that’s usually how it is for Users, too.” At first blush, this would appear to be the writers advocating a less-than-sovereign theology of sorts. I think its more of a statement on man as a creator, though…a creator recognizing his limitations and confessing them to his creation.
The programs’ desire to communicate with their Users is essentially prayer, and the practice is prohibited by the MCP’s regime as the I/O towers, which function as temples or churches in that they are the places that this prayer occurs, are kept open but not in use. When Tron restores balance to the digital world, the first thing that the characters comment on are “all the I/O towers lighting up.”
Tron predicted a future that one could argue we’ve already realized. It also argued for the validity and perseverance of faith, as well as posing the scenario of man’s creation dividing into a good and evil: the evil attempting to rule its creator, the good taken captive but still clinging to a belief in man as its creator…and hoping for salvation from that creator. Moreover, it poses the age-old science-fiction question of, what would life look like when man creates it himself? The difference is that the image here is less fatalistic than Shelley, and much more realistic in its time.
I didn’t get half of that from watching Tron when I was young, but its so apparent now. That’s proof, I think, that the layers of a good story reveal themselves when you keep watching or reading.