TRON: IMAGINES A TECHNO-SURREALISM
The world of TRON is essentially a dual-vision of a not-too-distant-future from 1982. One in which a corporation is exploiting geniuses to make money, from what would be those on the cutting edge of technology, we know this has already happened. In one side of this world, our young brilliant protagonists join together to bring down the 'senior executive' of Encom who is fully corrupt, and strangely enough, being manipulated by an evil artificially intelligent computer system. Today we would call these characters, Flynn, Alan and Lora, "whistleblowers," who sneak into Encom to retrieve evidence of Dillinger's crimes. The villain is a corporate criminal, and this story is reminiscent of the stories of Bill Gates, or Steve Jobs, building a computer empire on the backs of clever software engineers who have entirely different motives than these "Ayn Rand heroes" like Dillinger. These are the heroes of the Cyberpunk era, the anti-establishment underdogs who fight back with technology, and in this case, technology which most people didn't really have access to.
The other side of TRON is a dreamworld. It is a surreal flipside of what these characters are doing, and what their actions represent. However, TRON predicts not specific technology, but this scenario which would occur because of the technology, and not the technology itself. The 'dreamworld' of the Grid is a mirror world of what we are shown taking place at the beginning of the movie. It is a mirror world which has everything to do with the technology in the movie, and takes its form from it, but not in any technical or realistically accurate sense, this is not a 'virtual reality' like the Matrix, this is a surrealistic cinematic device. What is happening inside the Grid, while being the entire focus of the movie, just as Oz is the entire focus of the Wizard of Oz, and not Kansas, the reason for this is not to depict what really happens inside computers, but an allegory of what we might do with our computers when we are faced with such situations such as with Dillinger and Encom.
The Grid also shows us that what we do with our technology has another side to it we rarely think about, and that what happens there in that world, will also reflect back. Tron takes on a tyrannical system, and changes it, and these ideas must find their way back into our real lives as well. It isn't merely some sort of fantasy video game, it is illustrating the philosophy of our human characters in what they are doing in the real world. There is something very wrong with people like Dillinger, they are truly villains in the sense of the fantastic, egomaniacal conniving sociopaths who must be stopped. They are the barrier which holds us all back, from seeing what we need to see, doing what we need to do, in order to change the world.
The world inside the computer in TRON is not really a world inside a computer, not even in the sense of a virtual creation like "the Matrix" it is a parallel dream vision of what the characters at the beginning are trying to accomplish. The strange ironies illustrate and apply unique meanings to everything our 'real world' characters are doing. There is much in TRON that requires reading between the lines, and it is beyond 'political' in its intentions. FLYNN could have been a real person in the 80s, as well as Alan and Lora, there is nothing particularly unlikely or fantastic about them, they could have been any real person working in any number of companies which existed at the time. This also could have been the real story of any of these types of people at any given company at the time as well.
Within the flipside computer generated dreamworld, these archtypes Tron, Clu, and Yori act as mythological versions of their real world counterparts. FLYNN's dream, or journey into this other world is describing and illustrating a set of ideas which are intended to carry us as we face all these new technologies which had their dawn in the late 70s and early 80s.
Alan is decent enough guy, one who finds out that one day even he can be restricted. One day you wake up and your account is closed, your password changed, your access restricted. This is motivation enough to want to fight the system, and when it happens to someone like Alan, you know that we're in a world of trouble.
Lora is consigned to making a device which scans real world objects and transfers them into data, imagine what Encom could do with a device like that in the future...(I refer you to watch "CAPTAIN POWER and the SOLDIERS OF THE FUTURE to follow that train of thought). You know that such huge corporations will do bad things with it. However, Lora's laser also represents something else, this 'thing' she's made which presumably Encom owns, or Dillinger will later re-appropriate, is the thing which brings Flynn into the dreamworld, but more importantly, allows Flynn to get 'in there' and do something important. Flynn is off being a bit immature, and he's caught up in the world of videogames, and he's good at it, at both creating them, and playing them. He needs a shining light that points him to his destiny, and Lora's laser essentially is that light. In another context, Lora's device, something which turns something into nothing and back into something again, has an even greater meaning. People like Flynn are somewhat egomaniacal themselves, hackers can be quite arrogant about their accomplishments, and what they truly need are two things: the moral imperative of people like Alan, and the ego-shattering inspiration of people like Lora. She destroys him, and brings him back to 'something' and that something is heroic. (and he brings her back later as well) This is a mythological archtype.
Alan needs a bit of Flynn, he's a little uptight, and Lora needs someone like Alan to wake up to the fact that she's starting to get lost in work that is basically going to be completely repurposed by people like Dillinger. Alan's straightforward and justified bitching about the MCP and the 'conspiracy' of Dillinger is something she needs to take seriously, and she does, leading Alan to Flynn, so they can all get on with doing the right thing.
There is some brilliance in these characters, though most critics call them 'wooden' and undeveloped. What happens inside the computer dream world, mirrors the above in more literal ways. Yori/Lora is basically hypnotized in her work by Sark and the MCP, Tron wakes her up. Flynn brings her back to life with his energy. These are literal illustrations of what would be happening 'in the real world.'
Yori is seen 'creating' or bringing into existence the Solar Sailer. This 'ship' looks a lot like a butterfly, a creature of transformation, or transcendence. She reclaims it, or steals it, it is hers, it is her transformation, through the inspiration of Tron's crusade and Flynn's energy. When they are caught by Sark, Flynn brings her 'back to life' with his energy or 'hope' and if she can steal and operate this Solar Sailer, why not Sark's ship? What is Sark's ship? Sark is abandoning it to be 'de-rezzed' which is just like corporations and their wasteful and destructive use of resources, and 'built in obsolescence.' She 'recycles' the Carrier, and takes Flynn to the MCP communication beam. Her ability to apply the skill for one program to a completely different one, and 're-purpose' it is the 'idea' which takes Flynn to the 'communication beam.' Everything about Lora and Yori have to do with 'beams of light.'
Flynn, the cocky and somewhat arrogant hacker/gamer/programmer 'sacrifices' himself by jumping into the light. This is his transformation and transcendence. Tron uses a 'data disc' to destroy the MCP. Previously, this disc was nothing but a tool for the 'games' and now it is a weapon to take down the system, a simple disc, in other words, information. Tron doesn't use a laser gun, he uses information, and it is information that Flynn needs to take down Dillinger, and it is information which Alan would be 'freeing' with his program. Information is what Lora's laser points to, when it transforms things or 'people' into 'data.'
TRON is the surreal story of transformation of certain characters which could be anybody in the real world, working at various similar jobs, and how and what they must do to 'free the system.' All of this is still relevant today. The surreal background of the 'computer world' illustrates where this struggle will take place, and that is in some sort of 'technological landscape' something which William Gibson called 'cyberspace.'
You're there right now, if you're reading this. You're staring not at printed words on a page, you're staring at electronic light. You're in the world abstractly imagined by TRON, and so the question is, what are you going to do now, User?