Your Own Digital Jesus: The Religious Subtext of TRON

Your Own Digital Jesus: The Religious Subtext of TRON

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Users, and of the Flynn, and of the Master Control.

[Enjoy today’s guest post by Cracked regular Dan Seitz]


TRON is, on the surface, a fairly simple Hero’s Journey story, common in the effects-heavy ‘80s. Man is somehow zapped into computer, man meets a girl and a hero, man fights the Man and triumphs. But beneath that is a relentless religious text, one perhaps uniquely aligned to the zeitgeist of the 1980s, that we’ll elucidate here.

Behold his flaming chariot

Behold his flaming chariot

Take first the “programs”, the common folk of the 8-bit world. In TRON, programs are actual people inside the computer, enslaved by the Master Control Program and forced to compete in gladiatorial games. Their religious opium is a belief in the Users, to them, a mythical, unseen force which created them, oversees them, and only wants the best for them, but seem powerless to interfere in stopping their oppression. The MCP actively suppresses this religion, even though he knows it’s actually true; he himself is beginning a campaign to take over and manipulate the human world, regularly interacting with a human, played by David Warner, in the process. The programs are, except in a few cases, made in the very image of their programmers, and far be it from us to belabor the obvious religious parallels there.

Next we come to the title character, TRON. As the line that introduces him so aptly puts it: “His name is TRON. He fights for the Users.” Is there no more apt description of the religious crusader? TRON is a warrior, fighting for unseen gods.

Is there none in the land of TCP/IP who is just?

Is there none in the land of TCP/IP who is just?

Finally, we come to the key player in this religious parable: Flynn, who serves as our Christ figure. In fact, the parallels between Flynn and Christ are numerous. Flynn descends from the real world into the data realm and is appalled by the rampant corruption and oppression that surrounds him. Flynn allies with TRON and chases the MCP to his lair, where, in a noble act of self-sacrifice, Flynn leaps into the MCP’s control beam to destroy it, thus erasing his digital body and returning Flynn to the higher physical world.

The parallels run deeper. The MCP, when stripped of his vast animated mask, resembles no one so much as an aged rabbi, perhaps a nod to Caiaphais. The film itself is shot in black and white for the “computer” sequences, and uses silent-film style makeup for technical reasons, thus echoing the epics of the Christ that were so popular in the 1920s, films such as Cecile B. DeMille’s King of Kings. Finally, there are the gladiatorial games themselves, which reflect both the success of Atari in the ‘80s, and the fate of many a Christian believer in ancient Rome.

TRON was released in 1982, when the Reagan era and the franchises and stars that accompanied it were first rising to their ascendency. With the success of Star Wars, science fiction was seen as a serious moneymaker and cultural force for the first time. Similarly, “man-on-a-mission” films such as First Blood and Death Wish were popular and becoming moreso. Finally, televangelism and religious involvement in politics were rising to a frenzied height unlike any seen in the 20th century.

Is it so difficult, then, to see TRON as an epic of the Christ for the 1980s? Where Jesus practices not passive resistance, but taking the fight directly to the foe with the help of a righteous warrior, and sacrificing himself to protect both the lowly creatures made in his image and the heavens above? In the end, isn’t Flynn no less than a digital Jesus?

No one can come to the Download except through me.

No one can come to the Download except through me.

[Have you accepted Bruce Boxleitner as your lord and savior? Testify in the comments!]

10 Comments on “Your Own Digital Jesus: The Religious Subtext of TRON”

  1. Dan #

    Naah.. I’m SURE it’s his work in “Scarecrow and Mrs. King”


  2. stokes #

    I like this as far as it goes, but who does TRON represent in this scenario? (Simon Peter? Mary? John the Baptist? Moses?) And what does it say that The Users are completely oblivious to the programs that worship them? How about the fact that Flynn is not “made code” because he so loved the [computer] world, but rather because the Master Control Program caught him in a trap? I agree that there is a Christ-allegory in TRON, but I think it’s a much, much weirder one than you suggest here.


  3. Gab #

    TheGryphon: YESYESYES!!! B5 all the way! ;p


  4. Schmoid #

    @stokes: “…what does it say that The Users are completely oblivious…”

    That comment made me start to think about the repeating layers of this story coupled with the themes from works like Wrather’s beloved Paradise Lost (I’ve been listening to the Podcasts):

    1. There is God
    2. God makes angels who have no free will
    3. Bored, God makes Man who has free will
    4. Man’s first creation (aside from that whole procreation/child thing) are Programs who have no free will

    Is the next step for man to create programs who have free will? Or does it speak to our obliviousness that, as possessers of free will, we’re going to break the pattern and be happy with our “free will free” programs?


    • Gryph202 #

      Angels do have free will — but they only make a decision once, after there is no redemption from a fall. Humans are not unique in Paradise Lost for their free will, but rather for the spark of divinity in them that makes redemption possible.

      And this is where the religious metaphors in TRON fall apart. Programs exist to fulfill the will of their users, which is their ultimate purpose — but what would a sinning program look like? The MCP is more of a satan-figure in this metaphor, but what are the consequences for a program who decides to set aside their purpose?


      • Martin #

        Nope. They don’t. Read job and the Hebrew language that invented God and His angels.
        Read Isaiah 45:5-7

        There is no Devil / evil Satan who controls the world.
        That is pagan Christianity which is the Greek text. It has nothing to do with angels or the Hebrew word and its Hebrew meaning.
        It’s Greco Roman paganism.
        It’s two different world views that are incompatible.


  5. stokes OTI Staff #

    @Schmoid- Nice! How about this: man’s obliviousness to the programs is CAUSED by boredom. Perhaps God ignored the angels too?


  6. DM #

    Nice title. DEPECHE MODE RULES!


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