Kultur, Zoologi og metafysisk spekulasjon

TRON: what legacy?

In Film on januar 5, 2011 at 11:36 am

(Spoiler alert.)


In 1982 the movie Tron was shown for the first time in cinemas. Now, twenty eight years later the sequel is launched, and for those who came to like the first film the expectations were huge. First of all, Tron: Legacy is not a remake; the narrative is placed in (supposedly) our own times (they play relatively new music in some of the scenes). But while the first ended up as a cult phenomenon, the new Tron: Legacy does not seem to aim at a similar direction.

First of all, Tron: Legacy is about a father-son relationship. And in addition to this, of course, there is the political drama inside a machine. Back in the 80’s the main character Kevin Flynn managed to ‘go into’ a computer. His motive was pure and clear; an employee at the software company ENCOM had stolen Flynn’s code for hacking into the mainframe of the company, now it was time for revenge. So, the Tron universe, the world that the film created, was characterized by dual worlds. On the one hand we have the real world, and on the other we have the computer world where all life is simulated. This mainframe is called The Grid. In one world there are real people, and in the other only programs in a computer. Apart from this aspect, Tron is a traditional Hollywood movie with the same types of social relations we are used to and find in most films. This makes the relationships and morale of the dual world quite confusing; for instance, we as viewers have to ask us why Flynn treats the programs around him as humans? How much worth is a computer program compared to a human-computer program like Flynn? In Tron these questions lacks any explicit remark or commentary, but instead everyone is treated as humans. The new Tron: Legacy is not about ‘revenge on the system’, but a father-son relationship. After the narrative ends in the 1982 movie, Flynn becomes CEO of ENCOM, but then supposedly he gets stuck in the computer world. Several years later, Sam Flynn (the biological legacy of Kevin Flynn), ends up on a mission to find his father. Unlike Kevin, he reaches the computer world by accident. After meeting up with his father, we learn that The Grid (which is actually/factually inside the ENCOM mainframe) has a long history of political struggle. The people/programs are being oppressed under the ruling program Clu, a clone Kevin made of himself many years ago. This is also confusing because Kevin actually subscribes himself as the cause of the problems and crimes of Clu, because as a clone ‘he is me’. For instance, Clu was accused for committing genocide on the “isomorphic algorithms”, or ISO’s. Why is Kevin living out in the wilderness, fleeing his problems, when he sees himself as directly responsible for holocaust? Anyway, the father and son duo (including Quorra) sets out to save the world, while at the same time hopefully saving their own lives. It ends with Sam and Quorra leaving the mainframe while Kevin sacrifices himself to save the other two.

The main characters are of course Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), Tron and Clu (also played by Jeff Bridges), and with the additional Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) and Quorra (Olivia Wilde) as the new recruits. Sam is the son of Kevin, and their relationship is a major mediator in the film. Quorra is the last and only ISO left, taken care of by Kevin. Tron does not have a central part in the narrative, but he acts as Clu’s lackey and henchman. He has become evil, but with his last action in life he manages to redeem himself. As a quasi sci-fi movie Tron: Legacy can be seen as related to films such as Star Wars, Blade Runner and The Matrix. In fact, Tron bears resemblance to Star Wars and The Matrix. (It is unclear whether this is plagiarism or if it is meant to be references.) For some reason this ship appears in both Tron and Star Wars.

Moreover; this silhouette was first shown in one scene in The Matrix trilogy, but it appears several times in Tron:

When we are now looking at Tron: Legacy with a realistic viewpoint, treating it as ‘real’ fantasy, as an actual portrayal of the/a world, how would a sequel look like? The film ends with Sam taking over ENCOM, of which he is the controlling interest shareholder. He then rides away on his motorbike, with Quorra on the back. So, our main character goes through a process in the film, from being young and rebellious to a corporate businessman. Reaching his final goal is characterized as a state of harmonic morale, like another western film he rides away from the camera onto some new (executive) adventure. In contrast to the intro, where we see him living in a shed, spending his days ‘fighting the man’, in the end this is turned upside down. The minimalist and revolutionary style was just his ego trying to cope with the original will of his id, which is money and power. His father plays a central part in his Super-ego; Sam must go through the mainframe and Kevin in order to fulfill his psychic path to redemption. Ending up with his father’s ‘girlfriend’ is quite symbolic in this respect. The fact that Kevin is living a solemn life, wearing loose and harmonic clothes, and sometimes reminding us of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, which stands in contrast to his son’s lifestyle, is also worth noting. It is normal that the Super-ego stands in contrast to the desires of the id, because of their different objectives and goals. By entering the mainframe, performing there what his father could not, and leaving him dead with his girl, Sam Flynn becomes the electronic Oedipus of today.

The other main narrative is about Kevin. In contrast with his son, the psychic history of Kevin is intertwined with the physics inside the mainframe. In order to rule he originally created a clone of himself. Clu was created to help Tron and Kevin in their role as rulers of The Grid. But Clu became evil; he overthrew Kevin and created a totalitarian state. But as we get to know Clu it is obvious, and he says this himself, that he does not know what he has done wrong. And Kevin understand this, he can relate to him 100% because he is the actual incarnation of his own id. But being parted with his own id – his own subconscious will – and being able to perceive his id empirically manifested, he is inclined to change himself. This explains why he has moved away from the city, trying to live a righteous and balanced life; he is still frightened by what he himself became through Clu. This must have been a horrifying experience for Kevin. In psychoanalytic theory the id is subconscious by definition, and it is not meant to be confronted with in empirical terms. Clu does not have a normally developed ego, his id has not yet been formed through external affections, which is imperative in order to create a functioning ego. The ego embodies the person’s way of coping with reality in a balanced way. In light of this, Clu should never had been set to rule. In his mind he was like a child. Since his goal in life was to rule, we can safely say that Kevin was (and remains throughout the film) his Super-ego. But because of the lack of ego, Clu does not feel guilt. On the other hand, he is motivated purely by his will to rule and govern; to do what Kevin originally wanted him to do. In a way, Kevin understands this, but he does not take advantage of the simulated father-son/teacher-apprentice relationship between them.

In Tron: Legacy we find at least two narratives. One is about Sam and the other about his father Kevin. By defining the only woman (Quorra) in the film as an ISO, she is not fully treated as a human. For this reason she does not create her own central narrative. The main narrative is, as we have already seen, traditional at best. Sam has a problem and he needs to go on a journey to reach harmony and redemption. After having fought a revolution inside the mainframe, saving the masses of people/programs, the prize is becoming CEO of a major software company. What happened inside the mainframe was ‘just’ an event needed for the maturing of Sam, he needed to ‘play with heroism and revolutions’ before he could settle down and get filthy rich. So we were being tricked in the beginning of the film, when we are led to believe that Sam actually enjoys a minimalist lifestyle. (If we can call it that; he lives in an old shed, but he owns a Ducati.) He never was a revolutionary, he never ‘never liked money’. In the end, we learn the opposite: he always wanted and needed money! The events inside the mainframe were just a game. This is what is new, this is the legacy: the naïve morale of the 1980’s, where the computer world is almost more ‘real’ than the real world, and where revenge against ‘the system’ and emancipation is the driving forces, has been replaced by a materialist and apathetic attitude where money and power is the ultimate indulgence.

It is true that the 1982 Tron did not deal with real politics. Both films carry the drama away from the everyday and into a machine. But this is no reason not to take it serious, as we cannot ignore the politics in the movie Avatar just because it is placed on a foreign planet. The politics of Tron: Legacy is a classical story of totalitarian regimes and its destruction, perceived from a democratic and liberal perspective. It is possible, however, to find here another confusing element. In relation to Sam’s narrative (e.g. the American dream) the political conditions inside the mainframe simply cannot be reduced to the conditions of the real world. By definition, the programs inside the ENCOM mainframe can never be free to do what they want. Even the concept of a program designates this; they are programmed. (We cannot argue that once a person is sent into the mainframe he or she is reduced to a program, because in the film, outsiders are recognized as such, as something other than a program.)

One way of interpreting this aspect is to recognize an even deeper psychology of the film itself, not just the characters but in the movie itself. On the other hand, relating the politics (again) to the narrative of Sam, the mainframe is just a playground. For the viewer this is perhaps the most obvious; being the main character, Sam simply cannot die inside the mainframe. The visual details reinforce this as everything evil bears the color red, while everything good is blue. Good and evil is actually inscribed, or programmed, into every ‘living’ creature. An example of an active performance of this is Tron himself; he starts out as evil/red, but seconds before his death he turns blue, telling us viewers that he redeemed himself. This reading shows how the story of Sam is predestined, and part of his oedipal development. As the reincarnation of Oedipus, he is now fit to manage ENCOM.

If we relate the politics to the psychology of Kevin we get yet another reading. Totalitarianism is portrayed as a childlike condition, either as an effect of a failed oedipal development during childhood, or as a political mirroring of the state of mind of a child. Both perspectives relates to Clu, since he is the cause and representative of the totalitarian regime in the mainframe. Clu never had a childhood, or we can see him simply as a child. The mature state, on the contrary, is the democratic state. Clu becomes the living example of the morale ‘learn from history’, and that bad culture leads to bad parenting which leads to psychotic persons which  leads to totalitarian regimes.

We have now seen that beneath the surface of Tron: Legacy there are loads of hidden messages and meanings. Depending on which narrative to focus on, we can detect egoism, provocative simplifications, determinism/fate, naturalizations of complex political conditions, and hints of a postmodernist apathy against culture and social relations. How does this relate to world we live in? The themes uncovered in Tron: Legacy are both traditional and naive. Perhaps we need to see this in light of the legacy; it is problematic to create a sequel to a film that reveiced a positive response only years after its launch, and when the respons was founded on a fascination over the combination of weird characters, beautiful architecture, and an absurd plot. But the original naivete of Tron cannot be directly related to the uncovered naivete in Tron: Legacy, mainly because the popularity of the oldest is related to its age, and because the new one tries to do two things at the same time. It wants to be new, innovative, groundbreaking, but at the same time be naive and vintage. Tron: Legacy does not achieve this goal.

The act of uncovering  might reduce the excitement about a film, but it nonetheless makes it far more interesting. Especially, perhaps, because the legacy is not yet finished. A sequel is on its way, perhaps even a trilogy.

  1. this is the worst review yet. filled with lies. plagerism? watch the films again those images are are not in the film and you know that.

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    My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing months of
    hard work due to no backup. Do you have any methods
    to protect against hackers?

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