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Tron: Legacy Director Joseph Kosinski was not shy about presenting pieces of both Christian and Buddhist worldviews in his recent movie Tron: Legacy. We see main characters being placed in very Christian roles, and throughout the script are a number of lines referring to Buddhism, among which are “You’re messing with my Zen thing, man,” and a reference to “knocking on the sky to listen to the sound.”
Over the course of the movie, Kevin Flynn (played by Buddhist actor Jeff Bridges) is called “the creator” by a good program and a “false deity” by his alter ego CLU (Codified Likeness Utility), a program who was created by Kevin “in his own image.” The description of CLU’s formation exactly parallels the wording of the biblical account of the creation of man (see Genesis 1:26-27). Sam Flynn, Kevin’s son, is also referred to as the “son of our maker” by programs.
On the Buddhist end of things, the first time we see Kevin Flynn after the beginning flashback, he is meditating on a zafu and zabuton (meditating cushions). Throughout the movie he makes many references to Buddhist philosophy such as “Chaos – good news.” Kevin says this to Quorra, whom he refers to as an “apprentice,” when she informs him that his son Sam has left on a suicidal mission. This is the Buddhist principle (talked about here) that any difficulty encountered should be welcomed as a challenge or a test. Can one continue to react in the correct way when there is added stress? It is also referred to as “the Lion’s Roar.”
Another example of Buddhism in the film is Kevin’s teaching to Quorra about “removing oneself from the equation.” This stems from Zen Buddhism, which teaches that one causes their own suffering, whether it is through greed, selfishness, or anger. When you remove your own ego from the equation along with its desires, you can then see clearly enough to make right decisions. In an interview with Bridges, he refers to this same principle as he explains his approach to acting: removing himself from the vision for a character in order to play a different person than he is.
A third example of Buddhist philosophy is the portrayal of perfection. Perfection is unknowable, yet “it’s . . . in front of us all the time” says Kevin at the end of the movie. In a final confrontation with CLU, Kevin admits that he didn’t understand perfection when CLU was created, and thus CLU’s understanding of perfection is therefore incomplete. Perfection consists not in order and control but in the possibilities of free and open knowledge.
More explicit than all of these references are multiple interviews with actor Jeff Bridges in which he states his desire to mash together “eastern concepts of reality within our technologically embedded culture.” Two of these interviews can be found here and here. In the second interview, Bridges talks about how he talked to his mentor about how to play his character with a Buddhist perspective.
That Christianity and Buddhism are placed side by side for comparison is obvious. The question we are left with is this: which of these does the film support? Oddly enough, the answer is “neither.” As the Christian God, Flynn Sr. fails as he admits at the end that he was wrong when he created CLU and that his original promise to CLU was broken. As an enlightened Buddhist, his “do-nothing” philosophy is never shown to benefit his cause whatsoever. Instead, we see characters succeed when they sacrifice for each other. For instance, Quorra intentionally gets herself captured in order to distract Rinzler (CLU’s elite enforcer) and give Kevin and Sam a chance to reacquire Kevin’s identity disc. Her ploy is successful. Both sides of good and evil are included in this concept – Rinzler, who was once a good program and a friend of Kevin, overcomes his reprogramming and sacrifices himself to allow Kevin, Sam, and Quorra to outdistance CLU. In the final confrontation, Kevin manually ends the program CLU, destroying himself in the process. His sacrifice ensures the ultimate success of the mission, enabling Sam and Quorra to escape with a disc containing all of Kevin’s knowledge.
In the end, this film supports a western spiritualist worldview. According to how the characters achieved success, we should neither rely on a flawed deity who created evil (Christianity) nor should we simply allow things to happen to us (Buddhism). Work together and sacrifice for each other, because that is all we have. Western spiritualism can simultaneously adopt elements from both Christian theism and eastern spiritualism, while rejecting key tenets of each in favor of placing emphasis on individual human autonomy and freedom to become one’s own person.
Protagonist: Sam Flynn
Hero’s Lifestyle Comparison to Bible: Anti-establishment.
Essential Conflict: Antagonist: “CLU” – Kevin Flynn’s program “made in his own image.”
Necessary to Succeed: Take chances, disobey “older wiser” one, have quick reflexes, work together, escape the system.
End Fate of Protagonist: Returning to the real world with an innocent girl and the tools to reshape mankind, inheriting one of the most successful software companies ever.
End Fate of Antagonist: Rejoining his maker.
Behaviors Resulting in Living “Happily Ever After”: See “necessary to succeed,” self-sacrifice.
Behaviors Resulting in Ultimate Failure: Commitment to the system (control, order, perfection), anger, waiting (patience), “removing oneself from the equation.”
- TRON was created by Alan for “the old system.”
- What’s more imperfect than our world?
- Could change everything, science, medicine, religion w/ isometric algorithms.
- Sometimes life has a way of moving you past wants and hopes.
- Denial of responsibility – Acceptance of Responsibility (Flynn Sr. vs. Flynn Jr.).
- False deity who sought to enslave us.
- CLU makes the human world “open and available” to all programs, just as Flynn Sr. wanted to make the digital world open and free to all humans.