Despite some of the negative criticism I saw of Tron: Legacy, I decided to see it. I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to like it. The previews for it did not get me excited, but I thought there was the possibility that the film could pull through and do what the original Tron could not do. And I was right.
Going into the film, one should not expect it to be all action all the time. There is a lot of exposition, a lot of story going on here. The thing is, the story at times can be subtle, so subtle many people did not understand and follow along – this could be a deterrent to some, but for others, for those who don’t like everything having to be told to you in the most simple of fashions, this will make Tron: Legacy a satisfying film. I expect the reaction to the film will change over time, and, like many films initially panned, it will be understood as a far-reaching film worthy of respect. The rest of this review will include many important plot elements, and so if you do not like to be spoiled, wait to read my comments until after you have seen the film.
Many of the elements of the film, I’ve seen in other places before: The Matrix, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Doctor Who. However, here they do make for a film which is more than the sum of its parts. The story is another rendition of modern humanity and its desire for self-deification. Here, Kevin Flynn from the first Tron has found himself the god of his own world. At first, everything he made appeared to be good. But Flynn is a flawed human, with ideologies that have their own dark underbelly. The good world he made was ruled by Clu, made in his image, with all the ideologies he had, but incapable of transformation or change. Clu desires to create the perfect world in the computer-created reality, and then to find a way to expand that perfection in our world. The problem is the basis of that perfection is fallen, it is tyrannical, and what appears to be good ends up being hell. Clu is incapable of overcoming himself, of expanding his perspective and improving it, incapable of transcendence. Flynn, trapped in the computer world, changes, and so is perceived as a threat – Flynn is capable of looking within, seeing the error of his sense of perfection, and to transcend himself and his ideals. Flynn realizes why man cannot be a God-unto-themselves: perfection is not something which is to be attained by force; it is realized when one finds out how to transcend oneself: then one finds that the transcendent is always there all around us, if we but open ourselves to it. Clu, as the faulty image of a faulty god, is that side of us which must be excised and overcome in order to attain real perfection: the fallen consciousness which limits the good to a lesser good, and demands that lesser good become the foundation for all that is good (like the Daleks or Cybermen in Doctor Who). Like Dr. Frankenstein, he has to come to terms with his creation and explain his mistake to it. This is a profound examination of the modern Prometheus, which, like the Matrix, is the digital, technological Prometheus. The greatest clue to all of this is that Clu was made in the image of a younger Flynn, but, that image itself is flawed: it is a good recreation, but it is fake, its imperfections are subtle, just like the imperfections in ourselves are at first are subtle.
Sam Flynn, Kevin’s son, has been without his father for years; his father had vanished and was believed to be dead. Alan Bradley, Flynn’s friend, was the one who had watched over Sam through the years. When Alan gets a page from Kevin, he tells Sam he should go check it out: and Sam, of course, is brought into the digital world. When he finds out his father is still alive, he thinks it is his mission to save his father: instead, he learns, it is to complete his father’s legacy and to do what his father had wanted to do. In the end, Flynn has to fight and overcome his dark side, Clu, while helping his son escape and bring into our world the good fruit of work: Quorra, a new kind of program which came to life in the digital world. Flynn believes Quorra is special, and if she could be brought into our world, she would be able to improve it in the way Clu could not. She has been trained by Flynn, educated by the classics, and, capable of self-transcendence in the way Clu was not. When, at the end, Flynn sacrifices himself to overcome Clu, his son is saved, Quorra is brought into our world, and she is now capable of helping humanity stretch out and seek self-transcendent perfection. She is the answer to Flynn’s hopes in the way Clu could not be, because she was not made as an unchanging image of Flynn.
One could read Clu as speaking for humanity and its complaint against God. A first I thought this when I was watching the film. But it is only when one realizes that he is a complaint against a false God that his value and the value of the movie is made clear. Human perfection will always be limited when it is an attempt for self-perfection: only in self-transcendence (openness to grace) can perfection be liberating. Flynn saw through his earlier self, the dark side of his being, something Clu could not do. Clu, therefore, is not only the flawed image of a flawed “god,” he is moreover, the immutable position of one who is stuck in themselves, imprisoned in hell.