It's difficult to sum up this movie. On one hand, we can say it's a solid action/scifi film. On the other, we can say it is an interesting mashup of cyber-zen, eastern philosophy and open source activism. They don't try to force the themes, but they are present and woven into the structure of the story. The main character, Sam Flynn, son of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a rogue computer programmer. Having inherited his missing father's computer company, which is something like a cross between Microsoft and Apple, he prefers to live alone and play dangerously.
All of this changes when a friend of his father tells him he received a page from Kevin Flynn's old office. Sam goes to investigate, and gets sucked into the same virtual world his father disappeared into, years ago.
On the surface, the movie is a fun action film. The CG effects in 3D make movies more like amusement park rides now, so whenever there is something more to a film it's definitely a plus. The movie begins with a bunch of cool action sequences as you're introduced to the "grid," populated by programs that go about their existence within a city ruled by a mysterious Clu.
The Return of the Dude
The movie starts to get philosophical when Jeff Bridges makes an appearance. His first shot certainly sets the tone: a man dressed in modernized Japanese robes. He sits on a white zafu and zabuton (meditation cushions), and the room he appears in is straight out of 2001: a Space Odyssey. After a happy reunion between father and son, Kevin tells Sam that living in this world has changed his philosophy on life. "It's about removing yourself from the equation," Jeff Bridges says, channeling Lebowski. He tells his son that he must set things right, and that in his youthful quest for perfection, he has created a monster that must be destroyed. Perfection, he states, is something that is already present. It only arises when you release control and yield to chaos.
Bridges plays the role of the old master archetype, something like a cross between Yoda and Obi-wan. In an interview with Tricycle, he admits his wish to create a modern myth with Tron: Legacy; mashing together eastern concepts of reality within our technologically embedded culture. This movie is a definite reflection of the real world, if only in a polished, CG way.
Later on in the film, Bridges sits in the back of an airship and tells his son he is going to "knock on the sky" for a while. Interestingly, some reviewers were upset that didn't appear to "mean anything." But that was probably the point. Zen is the art of silent contemplation. So Bridges sits stoically at the other end of ship while Sam and Quorra chat.
Open Source Evolution
[Spoiler alert. Skip this part if you don't want to hear some of the plot revealed] Quorra is a unique life form that has emerged from this strange cyber reality. She is the last of a race of humans that emerged spontaneously from this world in the years between the two movies. Kevin's alter ego (note the play of archetypes: the ego and the sage), Clu, wiped them out for fear of their potential to ruin his program's sole task: perfection.
Kevin reveals that her DNA is vastly complex (I believe there were three strands instead of two). She had the potential to revolutionize life in the physical world, but her DNA code had to be shared openly. This "open source" philosophy was played early on in the movie, as Sam hacked into his own company's computers to share the latest operating system with the world.
One theme of this movie is that knowledge should be open and free. This is ironic, considering Disney hired ex-FBI agents to screen preshows for potential digital piracy (I attended one of these events in Orlando). Nevertheless, the message speaks louder than the messenger. As this movie was released, Wikileaks was also releasing its now infamous cable documents. Often times a culture's imagination reflects what is going on in history at that moment.
As much as Tron is fun and games, it is also a reflection of the real struggle going on in society: the new digital culture that is vastly more complex and interdependent than its predecessor as it emerges into human society.
We could make an analogy in understanding that Quorra represents not only open source activism, but the birth of a new age and a new world that is literally re-wired with new principles and new potentials. The trick is to get that potential into the physical world, and allow it to stay without needing to control or destroy. As usual, imagination mirrors reality and often times in the most unexpected of places. Perhaps we will be seeing more of this Cyber-Zen, Open Source philosophy taking life in our culture in the years to come.
The Tricycle interview between Jeff Bridges and Roshi Bernard Glassman was a pleasure to watch. The two are old friends and are very comfortable with each other's presence. Bridges describes his own practice and intentions behind the movie, and Glassman describes how he was asked to come aboard to help weave Zen philosophy into Tron's storyline.
If you are a Zen practitioner, or even a remote fan of eastern mysticism, this movie will not be ground breaking for you, but it's definitely something to appreciate. I recommend it for the fun, philosophy and timely real-world themes.