The draw of Tron Legacy may be its flashy computer world, but the filmmakers also imbued it with religious and philosophical themes. Stars Olivia Wilde and Jeff Bridges filled us in on the metaphysics girding the Grid.
During the Tron Legacy press conferences in Los Angeles, I asked Olivia Wilde who inspired the role of the computerized hero Quorra. Instead of naming any famous AI or robotic characters, Wilde cited the Maid of Orleans:
The biggest inspiration for Quorra was Joan of Arc, and 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.
Like the haircut?
Yes, like the haircut. We wanted something kind of androgynous. Joan of Arc wore an entire suit of white chain mail, so at one point I said, "This has to be white!" And they were like, "No one's going to get that reference, Olivia. Nobody's going to be like, 'Ohhh, a white suit! Just like Joan of Arc!' " It was really fun to have something like that as inspiration.
In a later discussion, Jeff Bridges elaborated on the conceit of Tron Legacy as a modern myth. In Bridge's opinion, the film is very much 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.
You don't want to vilify your ego. It's as Flynn says, "The more I fight against him, the stronger he becomes." That's an interesting opponent that has that power. It's not necessarily a good or bad. It's how we merge these two sides of ourselves and honor them.
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 dig immediate gratification as much as anybody, but it happens so fast that if you make a decision like that, you can go far down the wrong track [...Think about those] plastic single-use water bottles. Where did that come from? Who decided that? You can have a couple swigs of water [...] and those bottle don't disintegrate entirely. Microscopic animals eat the plastic, and the fish eat those, and we're all connected. It's a finite situation here.
Finally, Bridges also revealed that he brought a Zen master on set to help hash out the film's themes.
I hope that people look at [this film] and glean some kind of wisdom from that. I brought on board a Zen master, a buddy of mine, Roshi Bernie Glassman [...] He came on-board to help add some spiritual depth to the thing. We didn't want it too cloying, and we didn't want it to feel like you were being preached to. We wanted some kind of substance in that way, and hopefully the movie will help people navigate the challenges of technology.
So there you have it: Joan of Arc, Zen masters, and a new technomythology. I hope this doesn't mean the Acolytes of the Crimson Cult of Sark will be pamphleteering door-to-door anytime soon.