Cinematic Chiasmus is no longer my sole domain. I’ve had help from my wonderful readers to complete my Spider-Man chiasmus and to see the chiasmus of Alien and Alien3. In those cases, I had abandoned my Spider-Man chiasmus, and I had already unveiled the symmetry of Aliens. So they were more about completing what I had started.
However, this time I have something wholly original. Out of the blue, I recently got a fantastic email from a reader named Jordan who’s been with me since 2011! He suggested I look at three films to see if they might have a chiastic story structure. The easiest one for me to look at first was Tron.
I had a good feeling about Tron, and it was surprisingly easy to discover the chiasmus in it. Sometimes I struggle to figure out the turning point. But this one came naturally. So let’s go to the laser bay and get an inside look at the symmetrical story structure of Tron.
First, here’s a summary of the chiasmus:
A. We see a high-level view of a digital world
B. In a game at Kevin Flynn’s arcade, Sark shows his mastery of lightcycles
C. Crom and Ram are in the dark about why they’ve been imprisoned
D. Flynn and Clu go on a mission trying to find Ed Dillinger’s incriminating file
E. Dillinger and the Master Control Program attempt to block Flynn’s access
F. Alan gets blocked by the MCP from accessing his Tron program
G. Walter and Lora digitize an orange in a risky experiment as Alan watches
H. Alan notes that Flynn once had a romantic relationship with Lora
I. Alan and Lora go to warn Flynn about Dillinger and the MCP
J. Flynn breaks the all-time record on the game “Space Paranoids”
K. Flynn explains his longtime rivalry with Dillinger
L. Dillinger tells Walter he’s basically done at ENCOM
M. Flynn helps Alan and Lora open a very large door at ENCOM
N. The MCP blackmails Dillinger into compliance
O. Flynn refuses to listen to the MCP’s warnings and gets digitized
P. Sark shows his fear of Flynn to the MCP
Q. Flynn runs into an invisible forcefield, and Sark addresses him from his command ship
R. Tron successfully fights for the users against four enemies
S. Sark tests Flynn by trying to make him kill Crom in a ring game
T. When Flynn meets Tron, he implies he’s a user and then wins a lightcycle game
U. Tron, Flynn, and Ram outrun tanks and steal a little energy
V. Sark’s men destroy Flynn and Ram’s lightcycles while Tron gets away
W. Flynn’s user power puts together a destroyed Recognizer, and Ram suffers de-resolution
X. Tron intercepts Yori, and they sneak away unnoticed
Y. Flynn meets Bit and crashes his Recognizer, but no one seems to notice him
Y. Flynn can’t find Tron, so he knocks out a program and changes colors to blend in
X. Tron and Yori get spotted on their way to confront Dumont
W. Putting his life at risk, Dumont allows Tron to connect with his user and gain a crucial file
V. Tron and Yori flee while Flynn and Dumont get left behind
U. Tron and Yori steal a small ship and outrun Sark’s command ship
T. Reuniting with Tron, Flynn admits to being a user and writing the “Lightcycle” game
S. Sark taunts and tortures Dumont
R. With his user power, Flynn manages to save Tron and Yori from two Recognizers
Q. The command ship comes out of nowhere to destroy Flynn’s ship
P. Sark tries to hide his fear of Flynn when he meets the user face to face
O. Sark warns Flynn he’s about to be de-rezzed
N. Sark dooms the MCP by unwittingly bringing Tron close to it
M. Flynn saves Yori from getting de-rezzed as a sealed wall opens
L. The MCP tells Dumont and others they’re about to lose their identities and become part of him permanently
K. Tron fights Sark to settle an old score
J. Tron breaks Sark with his superior identity disk
I. Flynn and Yori approach the MCP to try to help Tron
H. Flynn kisses Yori after she expresses fear for his life
G. Flynn reassures Yori and jumps into the MCP’s beam to help Tron
F. Tron uses the file Alan gave him to destroy the MCP
E. Sark and the MCP get de-rezzed simultaneously
D. Flynn escapes the digital world with the file he had been seeking
C. Dillinger realizes he’s about to be arrested for theft
B. Flying in on Dillinger’s old helicopter, Flynn shows he’s now in charge of ENCOM
A. We see a sped-up nighttime view of the real world
That’s kind of a dizzying perspective. So let’s get into each of these points to see exactly how they compare.
A. Digital and Real Worlds
Tron is bookended by beautiful shots of its world. After the opening title, we see a sweeping shot of what looks like a digital city from high above.
Right before the end credits begin, we see the skyline of a thriving city in the real world. Time begins moving quickly so that cars and lights look like digital streaks, especially as the sun sets.
The first thing we see in the real world is an establishing shot of an arcade called Flynn’s. Within the arcade, a young man begins playing a game called “Lightcycle.” But he doesn’t realize that two living programs are inside the game fighting for survival. Sark is the computer, and he easily defeats his opponent and then gloats over his victory with the Master Control Program.
One of the last things we see in the real world is a shot of a helicopter approaching the ENCOM building. It lands, and Kevin Flynn emerges from it. The helicopter used to belong to Ed Dillinger, but now it’s Flynn’s. And so is ENCOM. Flynn has taken his rightful place as the head of the company, and he revels in his triumph with his friends Alan and Lora.
C. Going to Jail
Crom is forced into a prison where he meets Ram. Crom doesn’t know why he’s there, and Ram is ill-informed on goings-on in the outside world.
Entering his office, Dillinger turns on his computer and realizes that he’s about to get arrested. Because incriminating evidence about his theft of Flynn’s property is soon to be public to everyone in the world.
D. Flynn’s File
Flynn sends his program Clu into ENCOM’s system to try to locate a file that will prove Dillinger stole his ideas for video games. The mission fails, and Clu suffers de-resolution.
Near the end of the film, Tron and Yori rejoice in their success. Meanwhile, Flynn returns to the real world from his adventure in the digital world with a copy of the file he wanted to find.
E. Shared Fate
Dillinger rides to his office in a red-lighted helicopter and then proceeds to speak with the MCP. They scheme to block Flynn’s access to sensitive files because both their fates are intertwined.
At the film’s climax, the MCP had made one last desperate attempt to block Tron by giving all his power to Sark. When the MCP is destroyed, Sark de-rezzes as well.
F. Tron and the MCP
Dillinger’s attempt to block Flynn has the unintended consequence of preventing Alan from accessing his Tron program. He tells Alan it will only be a temporary situation.
Flynn’s actions distract the MCP long enough for Tron to insert his disk into it, just as Flynn intended. By doing that, he helps Tron get rid of the MCP permanently.
G. Here Goes Nothing
Lora and Walter prepare to shoot a laser beam at an orange to digitize it. Lora seems to have doubts about it, but Walter is confident it will work. In fact, it works perfectly, and Alan congratulates them on their success.
Despite Yori’s fears, Flynn is confident that he can help Tron as they approach the MCP. He reassures her that everything will be okay and then jumps into the MCP’s beam, which ultimately de-digitizes him.
H. Flynn’s Feelings
Alan expresses his frustration about his Tron access being blocked by the MCP, and Lora brings up the topic of Flynn. Alan notes that Flynn once had access to Lora, in a romantic sense.
Yori expresses her fear about Flynn dying when he says he plans to jump into the MCP’s beam for Tron’s sake. Flynn then kisses Yori passionately, probably because she reminds him of Lora.
I. To the Rescue
Realizing that Flynn is in danger, Lora pleads with Alan to go with her to Flynn’s and warn him about what Dillinger and the MCP are doing. He relents, and they go.
Flynn tells Yori to fly the command ship right next to the MCP so that he can jump into it. He knows that that’s the only way he can save Tron.
J. Breaking Records
After a long search, Alan and Lora find Flynn doing battle in his “Space Paranoids” arcade game. He proves he’s better than anyone else by beating the all-time record. Then he invites Alan and Lora into his personal room. Oh, and Lora throws a pillow at Flynn’s head.
During a hard-fought battle with their identity disks, Sark declares that Tron is very persistent. Tron responds that he is also better than Sark. To prove it, he throws his disk, which breaks through Sark’s and slices open his head. The MCP then invites Sark to take all of his functions.
K. Old Rivalry
When Alan expresses confusion about Flynn’s motives in breaking into ENCOM, Flynn shares his experience coming up with numerous ideas for games while working there. But one day he lost all his files, and then Dillinger claimed them as his own without even changing their names. So he got all the credit while Flynn got the boot.
When the MCP tells Sark he senses Tron’s presence nearby, Sark goes to confront him. The two fight with their identity disks. Sark calls him a slave and says they should have joined forces because they would have made a great team. But Tron was designed specifically to shut down things like what Sark and the MCP are doing.
L. The Purpose of Programs
In Dillinger’s office, he and Walter engage in what Dillinger terms a religious discussion about the purpose of programs. Walter thinks it’s to help users, but Dillinger says it’s to do their business. When Walter laments what ENCOM has become, Dillinger basically says he’s fired.
Dumont and other old programs shuffle into the heart of the MCP. The MCP tells them that soon they will no longer be individual programs. Instead of serving their users, their only function will be to serve the MCP by becoming a part of him. He’ll never allow them to leave.
M. Opening a Door
Alan and Lora are at a loss when it comes to how to open a huge backdoor to ENCOM. Flynn comes through with a fabricated ID card, which he uses to open it. Alan wryly remarks that he’s a lot like Santa Claus. Then they make their way past the door.
Yori has given up all hope, thinking that Tron is dead. But Flynn refuses to give up trying to get through a sealed wall. When the command ship passes through an eraser, the wall suddenly opens, and Flynn saves Yori from getting de-rezzed. He pulls Yori through the opening.
N. The MCP’s Hubris
The MCP tells Dillinger about his ambitions that go beyond business. He wants to gain control of global leadership, thinking he can do things better than any human. When Dillinger pushes back, the MCP uses the leverage of his incriminating file against him. He makes it clear that he can destroy Dillinger at any time.
The MCP seeks to gather programs from far and wide to force them to join with him. Together, they’ll be stronger than ever. However, he doesn’t count on Tron sneaking aboard the very ship Sark uses to bring those programs to him. This hubris unwittingly brings his own destruction very close.
O. Flynn’s Brashness
Flynn sits down at Lora’s computer terminal in the laser bay to try to hack into ENCOM’s files. The MCP senses what he’s trying to do and warns him to stop, but Flynn doesn’t listen. So the MCP shoots him with a laser beam to digitize him. Once Flynn finds himself in the digital world, he gets almost instantly attacked by a guard.
After Sark commands his guard to take Dumont to the holding pit, Yori tries to intervene. The guard doesn’t take kindly to that, so he hits her with his staff. And he does the same thing to Flynn when he also jumps into action. Then Sark warns them that the command ship and everything aboard it is about to be de-rezzed. That includes Flynn and Yori.
P. Sark’s Afraid of Flynn
When Sark finds out that Flynn is a user, he shows real fear. The MCP is confident Flynn is nothing special and makes Sark suffer until he agrees to see things his way.
When Sark finds out that Flynn is still alive, he tries to smother his fear in anger. He claims that there’s nothing special about Flynn, but Flynn throws it back in his face.
Q. Unseen Danger
Flynn gets put into prison where he tries to get closer to Ram. But he painfully learns that there are invisible forcefields separating their cells. He is then forced to listen to Sark’s instructions from high above in his command ship. Sark says they will be de-rezzed if they rebel.
While flying in their butterfly-like ship, Tron, Flynn, and Yori are unaware of the command ship nearby. They’re separated from it by tall rock-like formations, so they don’t see it until it’s too late. Before they have time to react, the command ship is on top of them, and it smashes into their much smaller ship, separating Tron from the others.
R. Tron Fights for the Users, and Vice Versa
While Flynn goes through orientation, he asks about a lone blue warrior facing off against four red opponents in a disk battle. He’s told that it’s Tron, who fights for the users. Tron makes one of the red programs hit his own guy and then bests the rest of his opponents. In the end, he holds up his identity disk in victory.
While being pursued by two Recognizers in a butterfly-like ship, Tron, Flynn, and Yori get stuck in a power surge. Flynn creates a junction with his user power to help them get off their current beam. So the power surge keeps going and knocks the Recognizers into each other, destroying them. After that, Tron carries Flynn to safety.
S. Ring Game
Sark forces Flynn to face off in a ring game with Crom, who is a blue program like himself. At the start, Flynn seems to think it’s supposed to be fun, but he quickly learns that it’s deadly serious. When he has a chance to kill Crom, Flynn refuses, despite Sark personally demanding he do so. Sark then kills Crom and reluctantly lets Flynn live.
Later, Sark forces Dumont to suffer a cruel form of torture. At first, he taunts Dumont, and Dumont plays it off as a nuisance. Sark mocks him for being old, but Dumont turns it around on him by noting how he’s old enough to remember the MCP’s original humble form. Sark angrily leaves him to suffer.
T. Flynn Is a User
At Flynn’s first introduction to Tron, he mistakes him for Alan, his user. Tron says his user wants him to defeat the MCP, and Flynn says he already knows that. Flynn knows too much to be a simple program, but he just hints that he may be a user. Then he, Tron, and Ram defeat three red opponents in a game of “Lightcycle.”
When Flynn sees Tron again after a long absence, he finally admits to being a user. He even wrote the “Lightcycle” game they played earlier. Tron says, in that case, then he must have had a purpose for all of his actions. But Flynn dispels his notion that users are basically gods.
U. Outrunning Sark
After escaping the game grid, Tron, Flynn, and Ram outmaneuver and outrun a group of tanks that are trying to shoot them. During the pursuit, one of the tanks rams into another tank and accidentally sends it over a cliff. The three programs make it to relative safety and steal a little energy from a pure source.
After escaping to a small ship, Tron fights off a bunch of red programs attacking him with staffs. During the fight, Tron accidentally knocks Flynn down, nearly to his death. Meanwhile, Yori helps their commandeered butterfly-like ship go faster to outrun Sark’s command ship, at least for a while.
V. Tron Escapes
As Tron, Flynn, and Ram travel in lightcycles, a tank spots them and shoots at them, destroying Flynn and Ram’s lightcycles. Tron believes those two were killed, and he continues on to the input/output tower. Thankfully, they weren’t killed, and Flynn manages to sneak Ram away unnoticed by the tanks.
After Tron interfaces with his user, he and Yori run away before Sark and his men break into the I/O tower. Sark captures Dumont. Flynn is disguised among the red programs who enter in search of Tron and Yori. Tron doesn’t know he’s alive, though. So Flynn continues to sneak around and avoid detection by Sark.
W. User Power
Flynn finds a safe place to rest with a badly wounded Ram. After a while, he magically restores power to a damaged Recognizer and puts it back together from a pile of scrap. It’s his user power making the ship rise. But it’s not enough to save Ram, who gets de-rezzed as a result of his injuries.
Tron and Yori hope to find sanctuary with Dumont, the tower guardian. After some persuasion from Yori, Dumont creates a shield to block Sark’s men, and then he allows Tron to use the I/O tower. Tron lifts his identity disk, and it rises until it interfaces with Alan in the real world. Alan inserts a file into it that will destroy the MCP and then gives it back to Tron.
X. Tron and Yori
Tron finds Yori at her place of work. He pulls her aside and the two of them sneak away. No one notices them as they leave.
Tron and Yori climb around on large pipes. She slides down first into an area close to Dumont. Before Tron can slide down, though, a Recognizer spots him.
Y. Flynn Blends in
The turning point of Tron comes when Clu’s old Bit finds Flynn. Bit provides some not-so-helpful commentary on Flynn’s flying skills. Flynn flies so poorly that he keeps dropping down and eventually smashes the whole Recognizer, bit by bit, into pieces. However, no one around him who witnessed the whole spectacle pays him any attention.
Flynn notes that he’s where Tron was heading, but he can’t find Tron anywhere. He hides above a group of red programs walking in formation. As they go by, he jumps down and knocks out a straggler. No one notices, and Flynn inadvertently receives that program’s red color on his own suit. So now he’s able to escape detection as he keeps looking for Tron.
End of Line
I sent a rough outline of this chiasmus to Jordan early in the writing process, and he had some great feedback. As he noted, the turning point comes about two-thirds of the way through the film. I believe that was also the case with RoboCop and a few of the other films I’ve looked at over the years.
I love Tron. It’s one of those movies, like The Black Hole, that I’ll always enjoy, despite its flaws. Even if someone tore apart its problems until they were blue in the face, I’d still find things to love about it. Discovering that it’s a chiasmus just makes me admire it even more. I’d like to thank Jordan for following my blog for the past 11 years, and for inspiring this article. I can’t wait to see if his other two suggestions work out as well!
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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