Tron's legacy of moral contradictions

The dazzling new Tron Legacy movie extends the original like a richly vivid fractal universe, amplifying every aspect of Tron — including Disney's tired moral pretensions.

The new Tron Legacy movie updates the original Tron franchise to the more futuristic styles and darker looks that today’s movie going audiences enjoy. The dazzling state-of-the-art production values and computer generated imagery we’ve come to appreciate from a major studio like Disney are carefully woven into an even faster and hipper three-dimensional film tapestry.

An impressive array of contemporary industrial designers advance Tron’s costumes, vehicles, and settings, which are then skillfully balanced with its cleverly crafted new, and yet accurately derivative, story line.

After a brief segue intro from the time of the original Tron, we join Sam Flynn today as the estranged son of Tron creator Kevin Flynn. Sam is now hacking ENCOM, the software giant still exploiting his missing father’s legacy and corporate empire. Apparently as gifted as his Dad was with computer game design, Sam nonetheless languishes in his riverside loft as he schemes of ways to undermine ENCOM.

Alan Bradley, Kevin Flynn’s disgruntled former partner, opts to help Sam and tips him about an anachronistic styled phone page received from the abandoned Flynn’s video game arcade where it all began. Sam breaks into the arcade to discover the long forgotten portal that encoded and transported his Dad into his own video game’s universe. Sam’s bravado also gets him encoded and he finds himself trapped “on the grid” just like his Dad before him.

The new Tron grid has gotten much vaster, scarier, and more powerful since the original Tron. The improved integration of better industrial design, computer graphics, and current 3D imaging creates an intense video game like reality that’s still very unique and also true to the original. More streamlined and faster by several factors, the original Tron video game thugs and bullies are also back again and ready to arrest Sam on arrival.

Sam is immediately thrust into the games, the same as his Dad was, where he survives victorious thanks to his advanced video game skills. As the plot unfolds, Sam continues to prevail in various scenarios derived from his Dad’s ordeals in the original Tron.

The bearded, robed, Moses-like, and now wiser and older Kevin Flynn

We’re also quickly reminded of certain lingering moral contradictions within the Tron story. Kevin Flynn’s claim that his original Tron video game design ideas were stolen by evil ENCOM executive Ed Dillinger smacked of the typical Hollywood evil capitalist clichés — and this cliché is coming absurdly from Disney, one of the biggest and oldest entertainment corporations of all time.

Trying to be hip and get “in” with the new generation of software hacker countercultures, Disney reveals a gigantic, astounding example of absurd crony capitalist conservative me-to-isms. And since they’re stuck with this absurd plot cliché in order to expand the Tron franchise, they’re forced to exaggerate the contradiction rather than resolve it.

The new Tron’s explicit championing of its own self-fulfilling prophesy of the open source free-for-all business model, now even more prevalent than in old Tron’s, shines a giant CGI 3D spotlight on this inherent contradiction.

Quorra, the isometric algorithmic miraculously and spontaneously grid-generated program

Quorra, the newest Tron character and an isometric algorithmic miracle program created spontaneously by the grid itself, espouses Zen-like selflessness — and practices it too. Her altruistic sacrifice backfires, though, and she’s necessarily resurrected by the bearded, robed, Moses-like, and now wiser and older Kevin Flynn.

All the “heroes” are out to sink the real corporation from within their own virtual dream world, courtesy of that same corporation and its own technologies. Further contradictions abound as multiple characters morph and shape-shift morally to fit all sizes and forms of computer nerd fallacies inside Tron’s infinitely more flexible and relativistic video game universe.

Game grid player

Multiple dualisms and digital mysticism refract in a fractal house of CGI 3D mirrors that seem to extend into infinity. Anti-capitalism and anti-technology have now entered the perfect hypothetical environment from which to attack reality — all thanks, paradoxically, to the massive financial and creative resources of Disney Corporation.

Complex plot reversals and revisionist history only draw more attention to the twisting of the truth. This extreme exaggeration between several moral contradictions in the new Tron actually offers an amazing opportunity to examine Hollywood chasing its own CGI 3D tail on the global 150-million-dollar scale: Any of the soul, humor, or innocence of the original is finally displaced by faith and force.

Greetings, program!

While several scenes — like the awesome extreme-speed spectacle of the light cycle battles — are breathtakingly graphic and visually revolutionary, the irrational and derivative script and plot-twists soon unfold as being equally, if not more, underwhelming than the original Tron.

The impressive orchestration of the multiple layers of live action special effects, computer generated imagery and fantastic-looking costumes and sets soon crush the extremely strained narrative of backtracking and extrapolations.

The new Tron attempts to address some of the more scientific logical contradictions of its own legacy while distracting the audience from, and ignoring, the more important moral contradictions that have always been present in Tron. Such a huge waste of impressive production values is truly tragic at any price.

Light cycle with rider

Last, but by no means least, the new movie's Daft Punk soundtrack is good and may be better suited for today’s modern audiences — but the original Tron’s Wendy Carlos soundtrack was vastly richer and deeper in scope, range and even innocence.

I’m somewhat biased, since its music is actually why I went to see the original Tron in the first place — at which point I was quite pleasantly surprised by its imaginative CGI work. I had even overlooked its altruistic themes, so distracted was I by the music and visuals. But you can be sure I’ll be paying much closer attention in the real future.

Greetings, program!

Andy George is an independent electronics product development craftsman and technician in New York City. He's a drummer, a fan of science and science fiction films, and a pioneer of LED fashion technologies. He also participates actively in the NYC Objectivist community. His website is at

6 comments from readers  

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Get a life - its only a movie, not a philosophy. What should they have done? Write a movie about a corporation that "didn't steal" the creator's ideas or a fantasy world where everyone in it "agreed" with the creator's vision?

Maybe you ought to revisit your Webster's and look up the word, "fiction!"
With some irony, as at the deliberate focal point of Epcot center, the very center of the hall of quotes in the symmetric American Pavilion at the very center line of a symmetric park, is a quote from Ayn Rand.

Hard to miss the significance, either of the quote, or of its placement there by Disney.
I'm afraid I missed that part of the movie.

Instead, I saw a story about a works created by an imperfect god. The 'isos' were spontaneously generated, and quite outside of the original scope for the grid. CLU, representing lucifer, perfects the current version of the grid but does not have the vision to discard the current version in favor of something better. Flynn, or God, later evolves to realize his error.

I think the religious undertones of the film are profound. Perfection without vision, evolving gods, mankind as Angels (Sam)? What more can you ask of a mainstream film these days?
Well, another way to read into the motivations of Kevin Flynn and Quorra is to examine what their actions accomplish. Kevin Flynn's refusal to allow CLU to enter the physical world, and reintegration of his program at the cost of his own life doesn't seem like the selfless sacrifice Hollywood plays it out to be, as a sacrifice requires the exchange of a greater value for a lesser value. He loves the world, and it's possibilities, including those that his misguided son may still be capable of. His death for the life of his son shows a devotion to values, and to reality, even the altered world of the grid, as his love for his son would allow him to place Sam's life above his own. To quote Roark, "I could die for you, but I could not and would not live for you".

It is clear that the general movie going audience will automatically interpret the actions of Kevin and Quorra as altruistic, and that the scriptwriters intended them to be so interpreted. However, I can see that no matter how thoroughly the code of self-sacrifice is pounded into human brains, respect for values still exists, in some half acknowledged form. Take Quorra's actions to protect Sam. Her love for him was the motivator, and it is clear that a man's or a woman's choice to die for their beloved is not selfless. What we are witnessing is the attempt to allow human beings a right to self worth and self esteem, while still paying lip service to the creed of altruism. The fact that the grid is a place where miracles can take place, where physical matter can be disintegrated by light, where Programs know that they are created for the aim of the Users, where a User is a god, are what allow the code of selflessness to be accepted. A program is basically amoral, as they are programmed to behave in a certain manner, and have no free will in the matter. The fact that they are slaves to the Users is cheerfully accepted by "good" Programs, and it would be entirely accurate to call them selfless. The rebellion of the MCP, and later CLU is the attempt to be selfish, without a self. The Nietzschean selfishness that both characters adhere to is the other product of altruism, without reason or values. Placing the code of altruism into the world it was made for would allow it to work, but that happens to be a digital world, not this earth.
Andy, I see no point of disagreement with your assessment. Contradictions abound, as they typically do, whenever a modern liberal message is delivered through entertainment media.

However, as a capitalist, and also a fan of the sci-fi genre this film falls into, I'd like to remind you and fellow capitalists and objectivists, that sometimes, a movie may be appreciated from its base level... as a movie -- a cinematic work of fiction.

The TRON philosophy? Silly and flawed. The TRON movie? Excellent.
Great piece, and spot-on. I finally got around to seeing this a couple of weeks ago and was vastly disappointed, which I'd expected but had hoped to be wrong about. I knew the plot/theme would have to be a doubling-down on the anti-capitalist smarm of the original, but even the visuals were a letdown.

Gone were the vivid colors - apparently "hip" is of necessity synonymous with "washed-out-drab"; I too had hoped that contemporary technology would make composition of a soundtrack that extrapolates on Carlos' themes a snap, but nope, 'can't have that, no siree.

The new "Tron" plus this article prompt a line of thinking from Rand's observation that the counterculture is actually trite conformity to Establishment ideas: What would've made this updated "Tron" truly revolutionary would've been a screenwriter turning the tired, stereotypical anti-capitalism of the original into a surprise reversal. Imagine Sam Flynn facing down not a clichéd doppleganger of his father, but rather a clutch of anti-capitalist radicals harboring the same general malice that permeated "Fight Club," infesting the Grid's digital world and scheming to destroy the Encom corporation from within. But alas, that scenario is about as likely in today's Hollywood as a movie with eco-terrorists cast as villains.

Another diminution of this from the original is that it failed to tie all of the "alternate universe" elements to computer technology. One of the best things about the original was that even though the Internet was still at least 15 years away for most people and the ultimate applications of the fast-emerging computer technology of the early '80s was uncertain, the film was able to take the abstractions of that era's conception of computer technology and turn them into a concrete world that not only paid homage to but celebrated digital technology - with a palpable enthusiasm, fascination and yes, innocence.

The new "Tron" packs in all of today's CGI prowess - albeit in drab, anemic colors - but is unable to conceal what is ultimately another urban-car-chase actioner with lots of crashes, explosions, and a stock Rebel Young Guy. That the original was able to fascinate despite its anti-capitalist clichés is testimony to well-crafted characters and an outstanding - if incongruous, given the theme - sense of benevolent wonder.

So yes, such a huge waste, and such a huge disappointment.
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