To help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the release of Tron, Mark Schelske is doing a series of articles on all things Tron-related. You can find the first installments of his series here and here. Today, he writes about religion in the Tron universe.
Tron is the cinematic innovator depicting human consciousness inside the digital world of a computer system. It follows central biblical themes that 1) the created are in the image of the creator, 2) the created can be resurrected by the creator, and 3) a creator can bring salvation to the created.
When Walter Gibbs, one of the wise men of ENCOM, approaches the executive vice president (CEO) Edward Dilinger to lodge a complaint about restricted level-seven-access, he says to Ed:
“You know, you can remove men like Alan and me from this system, but we helped create it, and our spirit remains in every program we designed for this computer.”
This reference to “spirit” is our first clue that something of the creator is in the created. To that end, when a User - the programmer - creates a program, the creation is literally in his/her image inside the computer. Kevin Flynn creates a infiltration program - CLU - to hack into ENCOM’s system. We see the likeness of Flynn riding in a virtual tank in an effort to break through the Master Control Program’s (MCP) defenses. Alan Bradley, the programmer of the security program Tron, is a mirror image of himself on the Game Grid as Tron, but without the human glasses. The same goes for Lora Baines whose spiritual image is that of Yori. Even Walter Gibbs has an appearance as Dumont.
Dilinger then brushes off Gibbs by saying, “Walter, it’s getting late and I have better things to do than have religious discussions with you.” Dilinger is the model of corporate greed and corruption. He has stolen games written by Kevin Flynn, then fired him, thus allowing Dilinger to rapidly rise at ENCOM since the games are best sellers. Dilinger’s spirit image, Sark, is as ruthless as his User. Sark is enlisted by the MCP to get rid of User-Believers by having them fight to the death on the Game Grid--a move similar to the Christians being sent to die in the Roman Coliseum. A User-Believer is a program that follows the creator’s programming, and is sent to be “derezzed” on the Game Grid if not appropriated by Master Control. Yet even Sark has religious reservations about putting a User on the Game Grid:
Sark - “I’ve been hoping you’d send me somebody with a little bit of guts. What kind of program is he?”
MCP - “He’s not any kind of program Sark, he’s a User.”
Sark - “A User?”
MCP - “That’s right. He pushed me in the real world. Somebody pushes me and I push back. So I brought him down here. What’s the matter Sark? You look nervous.”
Sark - “Well I, it’s just, I don’t know, a User, I mean, Users wrote us. A User even wrote you.”
MCP - “No one User wrote me.”
The MCP has “appropriated” other programs, making him “worth millions” of human programming “years.” This is the digital version of demonic activity. If the programs are spiritual representations, then the MCP is stealing souls - much like the devil in Western religious tradition. When the real life Dilinger states, “Now wait a minute, I wrote you,” the MCP replies, “I’ve gotten two thousand four hundred and fifteen times smarter since then.” Like the devil fighting a war in the heaven before being cast out, the MCP believes itself greater than the creator and is intent on appropriating programs from the Pentagon.
Nonetheless, the MCP cannot go into the real world. Heaven cannot be breached, but as the story unfolds it is a creator who can come into the system and bring salvation to the created. When Kevin Flynn, a User, attempts to infiltrate the system from ENCOM’s Laser Bay 2, he tells the MCP, “How are you going to run the universe if you can’t solve a few insolvable problems?” A creator can still outthink Master Control despite all its appropriations of souls. Before Flynn can succeed, Master Control engages the bay’s digitizing laser which transforms Flynn’s matter and sends him into the Game Grid. Like Jesus coming to Earth as a man, Flynn looks like a neon lighted programs. But as a User he can perform the equivalent of miracles - the greatest of which is the resurrection of a recognizer.
At Flynn’s arcade, a giant billboard on the roof displays an image of the game Space Paranoids. Flynn programmed this video game (the most popular at that time) and is the designer of the recognizers - the horseshoe shaped ships that populate Space Paranoids. He’s even seen in his arcade playing it, cheered on by a mass of teenagers as he breaks the world record. When Flynn, in the world of the Game Grid, discovers he is able to reassemble the parts of a recognizer just by touching it, he performs a digital resurrection on the created.
Flynn pilots the recognizer for his showdown with Master Control. Digital buildings are all in disrepair. The beauty of the Game Grid is in decay as the MCP appropriates more and more programs. Like the Christian messiah, Flynn ultimately sacrifices himself by jumping into the MCP’s core. He then lowers Master Control’s defenses so that Tron’s disc can defeat it. Everything returns to normal, as if Eden is recreated. The programs have achieved salvation from the MCP. Yet Flynn does not die; he rises again by reappearing in the real world via the digitizing laser. Flynn then gets the evidence that Dilinger “appropriated” his Space Paranoids and other programs, thus profiting from Flynn’s creation. Dilinger’s misdeeds are revealed. Perfection of Heaven and Earth are restored as Flynn becomes ENCOM’s new CEO and the Tron program restores the security of the system. In the end, an appropriated program can become User-Believer again, fulfilling the commandments of the creator.
By Mark Schelske