Tek-Gnostics Archives

Tron Legacy &
The Tao

Gnostic Buddhism - Archetypical Hero’s Journey
~ Annotated Edition ~
 

"Tron Legacy & the 17 Enigma"The Tao is alive and flowing in Disney’s Tron Legacy, the sequel to the 1982 cult classic Tron. Outwardly, Tron Legacy is a visually stunning 3D adventure into the treacherous realm of cyberspace. Just below the story’s flashy surface, the underlying fabric of the film is instilled with religious and philosophical memes. As in the 1999 film The Matrix, the mythology of choice seems to be an amalgamation of Gnostic imagery and Buddhist methodology... Buddhist in general and Zen Buddhist in particular. The brilliantly concise and fluid nature of Taoism and Buddhism and the revelatory act of gnosis or knowledge is synergistic with cyberpunk ethos.

If the film’s philosophy rings of Gnostic Buddhism, it’s structure follows a classic archetypical “Hero’s Journey” format, as popularized by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In the sequel, Actor Jeff Bridges reprises his role as the video game visionary Kevin Flynn, still trapped in his computer world. Apparently abandoned by his father for 20 years, Flynn’s son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is the reluctant heir to the software mega-corporation, Encom International. When Sam, now grown, is mysteriously directed to his father’s derelict arcade, he discovers his father’s secret study. Inadvertently, he activates a portal (read: Star Gate) and ends up getting sucked into the same otherworldly grid ruled by Flynn’s corrupted "Quorra"program, created in his own image, named Clu (a digital version of a much younger Bridges).

As Flynn, his son and a fearless warrior program Quorra (Olivia Wilde) contemplate escape, they are confronted by the system’s unique physics and program flaws, including Clu (the program that Flynn created, in his own image) and the flashy fixer Castor (Michael Sheen)… who may or may not be a friendly program. Also on hand is Bruce Boxleitner, reprising both his Tron role and that of Flynn’s partner Alan Bradley.

The story-line follows the hero’s journey archetype, with reluctant hero accepting the call to adventure… wise mentor providing assistance… etc. What makes the mythology accessible is the literal story-telling approach to the Buddhist concept of mastery of self, as depicted in Jungian interpretation. The film’s young lead… Flynn’s son, Sam… is the typical handsome movie-star hero. His outward appearance is classic motorcycle riding, computer-hacking cyberpunk. Within the Hollywood movie structure, his role follows predictable formula. Boy meets girl… boy losses girl… boy saves girl, etc.

Buddhist Archetype
Within the context of the Hero’s Journey, Sam initially refuses the call to adventure, as presented by his first mentor,
Alan Bradley. He then crosses the threshold via the (supernatural) portal, and is transported to the grid, or the otherworld. It is during his Initiation or trails that he meets (is saved by) the goddess figure, the beautiful warrior program, Quorra. It is Quorra who delivers Sam to the second mentor, the Tek-Zen Master, Flynn. Thus the Atonement with the Father is accomplished.

"Flynn"The philosophic essence of the tale is in Flynn’s struggle within himself. The struggle of Ego to integrate it’s many components, in Jungian terms. If “The Grid” is allegorical to the collective unconscious, then it naturally follows that Flynn must battle a younger version of himself… his own earlier arrogances. This straightforward depiction is very effective in illuminating the transition of knowledge to wisdom.

The theatrical and mythic turning point in the story is revealed in the “nightclub scene.” This is when Flynn resolves his inner hesitation… when he realizes the moment of action has arrived… and chooses the path that the hero(s) must follow. This is elegantly depicted within the film by the use of multi media effects, conveying the presence of power (read: chi) and true authority of Flynn… within the grid. It is at this pivotal point in the story… a battle scene, actually… that the poignancy of Buddhism manifests.

"Earth Touching Buddha"In the heat of battle at the nightclub, Flynn suddenly appears and performs one of the most beautiful (and archetypical) images in Buddhist iconography… the "Earth Touching Buddha."

In Buddhist mythology… at the moment of enlightenment… Lord Buddha was challenged one last time by Mara the Great Tempter (within the film… Castor/Zuse). Mara claimed the earth as his own domain, and said that now the Buddha had transcended this realm and should leave it. In reply, the Buddha called the Earth to witness by touching the ground at which the Earth quaked in recognition of his right to be here. Within the film, this demonstration is masterfully displayed using audio and visual imagery, fittingly depicted as “nightclub lightshow” effects.

Gnostic Archetype
Although much of the character’s rationale and subsequent actions appear Buddhist inspired, the imagery within Tron Legacy may be Gnostic in nature. Initial symbolic parallels between Flynn as God and Clu as the devil, is… shall we say… tempting. Clu rebels when Flynn asks him to be subservient to the emergent life-forms, the Isotopes (it turns out that Quorra is the sole surviving specimen), which miraculously and spontaneously manifest within "the grid." It would naturally follow that Sam… the son… would fulfill the Osiris/Mithras/Jesus roll as redeemer.

“Although people will be mostly aware of these motifs from their familiarity with Christianity, you could find these basic symbols in many other cosmologies. Clu seems more like the Gnostic “Demiurge” perhaps than Satan; and the story of the Logos coming down to save the Sophia/wisdom in humanity is also more Gnostic, although it is available (but hidden) in regular Christian theology. And by making the creator responsible for evil, it is morally superior and far more satisfying than the Christian mythos, which blames everything on Satan and absolves God from responsibility.”

- Derek Murphy

"Wheels within Wheels"Clu as the Demiurge creates a compelling mythology for the creation of “The Grid” as a sub-world of our mundane world… a wheel within a wheel of creation. After all… Flynn made Clu in his image. The flaws within “the grid” illustrate an imperfect world, created by an imperfect creator. Gnostic mythology utilizes a dualistic creation motif of a transcendent, unknowable god (Flynn) and a lesser creator god or demiurge (Clu). The world created by the demiurge is separated from the greater world by a dark veil that denies access.

Sam, as redeemer, is able to transcend “the grid” to the greater world of the users. Through his intervention and decent to “the grid” he is able to access the portal and ascend to our mundane world.

Actress Olivia Wilde’s biggest inspiration for Quorra was the 19 year old "Maid of Orleans" ...the 14th century heretic/hero  Joan of Arc. Born a peasant girl in France, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years' War. Her heresy rose from her claim to be in direct communication with the saints (extraterrestrial contact?), and a consequent reliance upon individual experience of God's presence (Gnosticism) beyond the ministrations of the priesthood and the confines of the institutional church. Wilde explains...

“That occurred to me very early on… a good six months before we started shooting… and Joe Kosinski, our director, immediately agreed that that was the right historical figure to base her on, for a few reasons. She's this unlikely warrior, very strong but compassionate, and completely led by selflessness. Also, she thinks she's in touch with some sort of higher power and has one foot in another world. All of these things were elements of Quorra. It was so thrilling when I found this connection between the two people. I thought, "Oh my God, any time I'm at a loss, I can go back to Joan of Arc." It's really the jackpot when you hit that as an actor. Joe, to his credit, was completely supportive of that, and we sculpted the character in our rewrites and physical creation of Quorra to match some of these elements of Joan of Arc”.

Modern Myth
In addition to the Gnostic Zen ambience and beyond the psychedelic eye candy, Tron Legacy delivers what any science fiction tale should. It serves as “a cautionary tale” about modern technology and the ramifications what may arise from it. Actor Jeff Bridges acknowledged the implication of Tron Legacy as a modern myth. In Bridge's view, the film is essentially a warning about how the drive for technological advancement and convenience can blind us to the cost of these innovations. Bridges' discussion of the film's approach to technology was borderline kōan-like…

“One of the things that brought me to this film was the idea of helping to create a modern-day myth to help us navigate these technological waters… I hope that people look at this film and glean some kind of wisdom from it. We didn't want it too cloying, and we didn't want the audience to feel like they were being preached to... We wanted some kind of substance and hopefully the movie will help people navigate the challenges of technology.”

The reoccurring association of Gnostic Buddhism and science fiction in modern story telling is indicative of Earth’s emerging mythology. It is no accident that the cautionary tale, illuminating the delicate partnership between Earth’s domesticated primates and technology, resonates with many of us… for it is a mythology for the times we find ourselves living in. The concise passages of the Tao Te Ching and the teachings of Buddha align well with the sensibilities of the modern technophile who, like the Gnostic, value knowledge.

This re-occurrence… this emerging mythology is permeated with synchronicity. Jung’s term synchronicity is used to describe “meaningful coincidence,” or the alignment of "universal forces" with the life experiences of an individual. Jung coined the term “collective unconscious” to refer to that part of a person's unconscious, which is common to all human beings. According to Jung the collective unconscious contains archetypes, which are forms or symbols that are manifested by all people in all cultures.

Within human experience, the collective unconscious is quite compatible to the Tao… the basic, eternal principle of the universe that transcends reality and is the source of being, non-being, and change. From a human perspective, the collective unconscious is a means of accessing the Tao. It is a shared framework from which all humanity can utilize and draw inspiration. Whereas the collective unconscious is the aggregate of humanity, the Tao is the aggregate of universe. The Tao or transcendent force that gives rise to our physical universe is perfect. The manifest universe is “necessarily perfect,” …finite and as such, not perfect.

"The Grid"This is the secret that Flynn has realized in his contemplation of re-integrating with Clu. Flynn sought perfection in his virtual world. His demand of perfection, which he programmed into Clu, did not anticipate the unforeseeable… the spontaneous manifestation of a new life-form. The finite or closed system could not accommodate new information, which made “the grid” an inherently flawed realm.

This may be the final secret of Tron Legacy… that entropy, the second law of thermodynamics… the tendency of any system to eventually run down… is only an inevitability in a closed system.