Wisdom and Perfection in Tron Legacy

“I did everything you asked.  I created the perfect system.” –Clu

“I know…It’s not your fault.”–Flynn

If you haven’t seen Tron Legacy, I recommend it (and apologize for all following spoilers).  Yes, the movie has numerous faults, and no, its not as thoughtful as the original.  It is trying, nonetheless, to say some interesting things.  While watching it with the CSM youth last week, what struck me was this:  There is a very real difference between perfection and wisdom–between being good, and seeking the good life.

The premise runs thus:  After the fall of the MCP (see Tron), Kevin Flynn, enticed by the possibilities of User power on the Grid, sets out to create a perfect utopian system.  To this end he creates CLU (Codified Likeness Utility), in his own image, to carry out his will when he is not around.  All goes well; until a “miracle” happens–something Flynn neither planned nor created.  Flynn chases this new idea, CLU feels rejected, rebels, traps Flynn in the grid, and seeks to build the perfect system as originally  instructed.  Flynn, meanwhile, spends a lot of very humbling time hiding, pondering his mistakes.

Flynn made perfection (as he saw it) his central goal and source of meaning; he tried to play God.  In the process he convinced Clu that if he  worked hard enough and long enough, if he brought order to the whole system, if he lived up to expectations…then he would be perfect and, because of that, pleasing to his creator.  If Clu can just get every detail right, he will be loved.

I know I have been Clu.  I suspect most of us have at one point or another.  But after watching Tron, I think the bigger danger is being Flynn.  It is wrong to put too much pressure on our children–to ask for perfection in everything, even if we don’t really mean it.  It is risky even to teach them that “perfection” is the goal.  I know that sounds momentarily un-Methodist, but “perfection” for Wesley was not doing everything well.  It wasn’t even being a model Christian.  Perfection is to seek God in all things, to live for the Word of the Lord.  Yes, he felt that life would have some markers, but readily acknowledge that would would all fall short, probably often.  In the real world failure isn’t just an option, it’s frequently the outcome.  We learn more that way.

Flynn learns a great deal in his failures:  respect for CLU, love for Sam, the difference between might and power, the dangers of single-mindedness, the value of patience, the importance of sacrifice.  These he passes on to Quorra with great humility.  At the end of the movie, his greatest gift to Sam  is not the Grid or even Quorra, it is wisdom.

Flynn is opened to the wonders and possibilities of a world that is far to big and too strange for him to craft or control.  Sadly, the CLU he formed in his former image cannot get there.  The ideas of perfection and dominance are too far in grained; the pain of Flynn’s perceived rejection permanently mars their relationship. He cannot grow, he cannot marvel, he cannot forgive.  CLU does everything Flynn asked and in the end, it’s not enough because Flynn taught him the wrong question.

Some of what Flynn learns can only be won through age and experience.  But his mistakes with CLU aren’t necessary ones.  We can offer our children more than the unfulfilling pursuit of empty perfection.  We can teach them to do more than just “be good”.  We should set them searching for God; we should teach them to awe and wonder.  And we must walk beside them on their path, even if it’s not the path we would choose for them.  We can teach them to seek wisdom.

Then Job answered the LORD: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.  ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. –Job 42:1-3

Reading Revelation with the Surrealists: Part 4-There will be blood

 And he said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the whore is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the whore; they will make her desolate and naked; they will devour her flesh and burn her up with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by agreeing to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”  – Revelation 17:15-18

Guernica (Pablo Picasso)

Beginning with the wine press in Chapter 16 going through to the binding of satan in 19, we are met with images of horrific violence. Perhaps more than any others, these passages are difficult for me to honor as scripture. Yet it is important that we wade through them; that we neither turn away, nor give into the temptation to merely skim them. Even though they are bitter we must drink deeply here, or risk missing one of the greatest lessons of Revelation.

When John first sees the woman, the whore Babylon, he is “amazed”. Earlier the same amazement led others to worship effigies of the beast. There is something attractive about this woman. She bears all the markings of wealth and trade, education and culture. She is all that is best in Roman civilization–all the art and accomplishment the security of empire makes possible–and there is something attractive about her.

But she rides upon the beast– upon power and force and corruption and deceit–on all the things that keep an empire going. That beast will inevitably turn on her; it will destroy her. John shows us that, all that is good and attractive in an empire will eventually be stripped and devoured by the violence that sustains it–that is empire at its heart.

Picaso knew this. He painted it. There is a great story about Guernica. When Picasso was living in Nazi occupied Paris, a German officer was inspecting his studio, as they did from time to time. On the table were post cards of what was by then his most famous painting–post cards of Guernica. The officer picked on up and thrust in Picaso’s face. “Did you do this?” he asked. “No,” said Picaso, “you did. Have one. As a souvenir.”

Guernica is Picaso’s remembrance for a Basque town massacred, at the request of Spanish Fascists, by a German air raid. It is not easy to look at, no it is utterly disturbing. But even though it is bitter, we should look on it and take it in deeply. It is Picaso’s echo of John’s warning: This is what violence does. It may sustain an empire for awhile, but all violence eventually destroys.

That is not to say that our only valid option is quitism. I’m sure even Picasso was quite thankful for the tanks that eventually liberated Paris. And One of the most violent figures in Chapter 19 is indeed Christ, but though an army gathers behind Him, only Christ is said to slay. Vengeance is mine saith the Lord. In this life, it is inevitable that there be world powers, we are one now, as Babylon and Rome, and Spain, and Turkey and England were before us. And it is perhaps inevitable that such powers are violent. But we must be careful. Where the empire becomes an object of worship, where violence is as much an end as a mean, where power and corruption run amuck…there is Guernica.