Friday, August 5, 2011

Techno-Gnosticism in Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy is an enjoyable family film that has exciting action, great special effects, and absolutely terrible philosophical underpinnings.

This last point may come as a surprise to fans of the first Tron movie, which had some truly positive themes.  Tron, released in 1982, is not just an adventure movie but a Christian allegory.  Within the digital world of a computer processor, autonomous programs are made in the image and likeness of human "users," but those who profess a belief in their creator are persecuted by the Master Control Program (MCP).  The human heroes of the movie become computer programs in a sort of incarnation to save the system from the MCP.  The MCP forces uncooperative programs to fight trained soldier programs in arena games.  This is reminiscent of the Circus Maximus in Rome, where Christians were killed in creative ways to entertain a pagan audience.  The theme of persecution is apparent during a climactic scene in which rebel programs are set to be executed in a cruciform position before they are rescued by the heroes.  In addition, the minions of the MCP are colored red, perhaps an allusion to Communism.  Tron is a movie with a good message, but its sequel did not follow this precedent.

In fact, Tron: Legacy presents a negative message.  The plot and philosophy of the film revolve around the Isomorphic Algorithims or ISOs, sentient programs that evolved spontaneously on the computer grid.  The ISOs are super-geniuses that are supposed to be able to solve the mysteries of science, philosophy, and religion for the benefit of mankind.  "Solving mysteries in religion" ought to set off alarm bells in the minds of Christians.  There are two types of religious mystery, the kind stemming from the inability of humans to fully comprehend the nature of God, and the type that is invented and solved by humans or in this case, ISOs.  That second type belongs to the heresies of Gnosticism.  According to Gnosticism, a person is saved not by God, but by knowledge of God; knowledge that enables one to achieve a state of saving self-knowledge called Gnosis.  In Tron: Legacy that saving knowledge comes from computer programs, a literal deus ex machina. 

Movies are both literary and visual and the Gnosticism of Tron: Legacy has a definite visual component.  Jeff Bridges' character is shown meditating, and one can safely assume that he isn't contemplating the mysteries of the Rosary.  This is Gnosticism with an Eastern tinge, as the person in a meditative state looks inward to achieve a state of Gnosis.  Describing the differences between figures portrayed in Buddhist and Christian art, G.K. Chesterton writes, "The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards."  Compared to the cruciform believers in Tron, the spiritual imagery in Tron: Legacy is a major step in the wrong direction.  

Two further points are worth making about the Isomorphic Algorithms.  First, the ISO Menschen are Über not by any sort of virtue, but because they are simply knowledgeable.  This is consistent not only with classical Gnosticism but also with Scientism and other iterations of Modernism, a philosophy equally perniciuos.  Second, the ISOs, who as products of the electronic grid could be considered creations of humanity, are supposed to save their creators.  This is the exact opposite of the first movie, in which the users save their creation.  Just as Tron is analogous to God saving Man, Tron: Legacy is analogous to Man saving or at least changing God.  This is consistent with modern western culture, in which people believe in a God made in their own image, a God who conforms to whatever ideology or lifestyle the individual chooses to adopt.  Though they may appear at first to be an innocuous plot element, the ISOs are binary bundles of bad philosophy.


  1. Never thought there was a need for a sequel to TRON. & the parts of Tron: Legacy I saw at WalMart promoting the DVD told me I was right. Now you have given me another reason to be glad I didn't waste my money on seeing it.

  2. Got your notice on FB. Thanks for the heads up.

    Saw the original film a long time ago and parts of it on TV over the years. The thing is, I never discerned the Christian allegory you identified. Likely, that is because I am plain dumb and not as discerning as yourself. Now that you've elucidated upon MCP et cetera, it makes perfect sense. You taught me something.

    Haven't seen the sequel. Your analysis seems correct. I am sure if/when I see it your conclusions will be confirmed.

    If your'e interested in the associations between high technology and gnosticism as portrayed by Hollywood, I highly recommend two brilliant articles by Steve Kellmeyer (of The Fifth Column blog) on The Matrix. Here are the links (pdf files):

    "Gnostics in the Matrix":

    "Gnostics Reloaded":

  3. TH2: Thanks for the links! I really enjoy reading Kellmeyer.

  4. patrick, I agree, the articles were enjoyable. Not surprized TH2 knew about them.
    Reading the 1st article "Gnostics in the Matrix" confirmed a lot of what I knew of where today's New Age movement's roots lie. I couldn't help but notice how easy it was to substitute "New Age movement" for gnosticism & how much of today's radical feminist promoting of Sophia as found in a huge part of the Leadership Council of Women Religious (the batch being investigated by the Vatican) also was drawn from gnosticism.
    It also reminded me of a recent program on EWTN that looked at gnosticism.

  5. Fantastic insight! Makes me want to see both films again with these thoughts in mind. Another blog post worth reading.

  6. Al: New bad ideas are really often old bad ideas.

    Elsa: Thank you!

  7. Amazing finding of yours that went wrong Patrick, let me argue against, delete my post if you want but keep in contact with me as I find your ideas somewhat interesting.

    Let me start by saying that I'm a Gnostic Missionary, and an ex Catholic. I was looking for pictures of old CLU meditating for my meditation course and I found your blog.

    It surprises me that being a Catholic you actually found the Gnostic message in TRON Legacy. When the movie was about to come out my master told us to watch it as it had a gnostic message I presume left by him.

    Yes it has a Gnostic message which will probably go against your catholic beliefs only if you think it does;

    The real message is the teaching of the "Demiurge" the blind god creator of the physical world. People believe this to be merely literary, yet the true meaning is deeper:

    We are the Demiurge, we are creators of the physical world, it is said that man is the architect of his own destiny, yet by trying to make the world perfect and enjoyable we have created an imperfect world, the same thing happens in Tron Legacy: Old CLU or Flint or I don't remember his name creates a computer world intended to be perfect yet he gets trapped in his own creation.

    Look at our world; who created our innefective governments?, who chooses our leaders?, who created the financial systems with all those flaws?, why is it so hard to pay taxes so that you need to hire an accountant to do so?, why do you have to make a line and collect so many documents to get an approval for anything?. All of those troubled things are artifacts of our own creation, we are suffering and trapped in a world that we have created.

    The computer semi gods whose name I don't remember that are described as perfect and innocent where Quora comes from represent mankind before the fall of Paradise.

    Young Flint and Quora are represented as disciples who created light on their own and were able to trascend this computer world to a superior realm, which is the same teaching Jesus the Christ gives us.

    At the end, being Gnostic or Catholic or Jewish or Buddhist or whatever the message is always the same: That we need to follow Christ, or Buddha,etc. Which is the path of liberation, in order to perfect ourselves and transcend our flaws to reach the state of enlightenment they reached, which is the end of suffering and to reach heaven as you may call it.

    By the way how do this gnostic messages make it to these movies?, same procedure as the movie "Inception", a master goes into a director's dream and creates an inception of the message, the direction might be an atheist or whatever but he find his dream inspiration clever and puts this ideas into the movie.

    Other Gnostic Messages in movies, take a look at:

    Matrix Trilogy (full of them)

    Thor (Father sends his son(human part) to the phsyical world to learn in order to become perfect. The Sephiroth Tree and multiple dimensions are also talked about by Thor).



    1. This may be a bit late, but I've stumbled upon this blog, and I found it to be interesting. I think Avillax makes some interesting points about the nature of our world. It is true that we make the condition of our own world. For the most part, God lets us determine our own destinies. But sometimes we try so hard to make everything just right, only to make a mess of things.

      I was reading somewhere else that if we were to try to make a crystal by placing each molecule (actually, they're ionic bonds, so...) in its place, it would be impossible to create a crystal. But nature and the right conditions will manifest the organization that we desire.

      Perhaps the principles that Christ teaches (or any eternal truths) are just the only things we should live by that will produce the perfect world, or the "crystal", so to speak.

      I think we can find truth in many places. I, myself, am a Christian, but I can always find truth in many different cultures. Recently, I've been learning meditation, and there are many benefits one can reap as a Christian. It appears to merely be looking "inward", but it is much more than that. Meditation allows us to remove our attachments to things that are not necessarily important in this world. It allows us to act independent of our circumstance. Once we release the death-grip we have on so many things, the grace of Christ has room to enter our lives. As a consequence of this grace, we can become better people and be more able to serve the people around us.

      As a final note, my instructor for meditation has conversed with monks in Tibet (the real deal), and he says that the "place" they describe to him - where they go during meditation - is, in his word, "Jesus". I think most people have at least a portion of Truth. Thanks for this blog entry, and also thank you to avillax for his comment.

    2. Thanks for commenting Patrick (excellent first name,by the way). You are certainly right that truth can be found in other traditions. However, Christianity makes the claim that all the truth that can be found is available to Christians. Truth in other religions is a piece of the truth, and the truth is Christianity.

    3. Thanks for the reply! While I agree that Christianity embraces all truth, I think we Christians can get hung up on many things. Sometimes it's easy to think that we must always be busy doing something, but it is also good to step back and take account of our lives and be introspective. After all, we can't help others if we can't help ourselves. Just my additional two cents. Thanks.

  8. avillax: Thank you for commenting. Sorry for the late reply.

    I do not know enough about modern Gnosticism to present a comprehensive argument against it, but I want to answer one of your points.

    The Synoptic Gospels are consistent in their portrayal of Christ as savior and God. He is not "enlightened" he is enlightenment. I suppose you believe in one or more of the Gnostic gospels that say something very different about Jesus. You can call Jesus a Gnostic if you want but you and I believe in two very different and mutually exclusive people called Jesus.