No, but really. My favorite character in Tron: Legacy that got a decent about of screen time (oh Alan, if only the movie were about you) was, you guessed it…
…Ahem. Yeah. And here’s why!
program directives, ais, and rationality
One of the first things I want to establish is that Clu isn’t a normal program. He is named “Codified Likeness Utility,” for a reason (that reason being: the movie said Flynn created him special or something, lalala watch the handwave as canon runs on by). Fans have interpreted this in a range from “digital clone of Kevin Flynn” to “powerful program with some of Flynn’s memories/goals/personality.” I interpret him more as a sort of advanced artificial intelligence (AI), and judge his actions accordingly.
Now let me digress for a moment away from Clu to give you a rundown on some basics of artificial intelligence. (I’m no expert, but I have done a bit of research into the field.) An artificial intelligence is “a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success.” Basically, it’s a machine that can think, reason, and create goals for itself.
However, AIs aren’t intelligent like most organic life (for example: humans.) We have many processes that our brain do for us, like breathing, blinking, digestion – and on a higher level we guess, intuit, and allow emotion impact our decisions. AIs, on the other hand, do not feel emotion – they make their decisions based on chains of logic. Basically, they’re consummate rationalists. (I won’t go into rationalism because that’s a whole ‘nother essay right there, but here. LessWrong is a great resource to explore if you want to learn more about rationality. It’s fascinating; I totally encourage you to poke around. Be warned though, I lost weeks of my life to that website.)
This isn’t to say that AIs can’t simulate emotion though, and once advanced enough incorporate those (simulated) emotions into their decision-making processes just like humans do. I’m thinking that actually most of the programs on the Grid are subject to this phenomenon because hey, we need relatable characters, not robotic representations of computer programs! Oh, canon.
Another important limitation of AIs is called the ‘qualification problem.’
Many of the things people know take the form of “working assumptions.” For example, if a bird comes up in conversation, people typically picture an animal that is fist sized, sings, and flies. None of these things are true about all birds. John McCarthy identified this problem in 1969 as the qualification problem: for any commonsense rule that AI researchers care to represent, there tend to be a huge number of exceptions. Almost nothing is simply true or false in the way that abstract logic requires.
-taken from the Wikipedia article for “Artificial intelligence,” emphasis mine.
What this means in a more practical sense is that when one person says something, the example they’re thinking of may not be what another person is thinking of. (There’s a certain word for that too, but I don’t know it. Something to do with miscommunication?)
Anyway! Going back to Clu now, we can see that he’s suffering from the qualification problem. I mean, ‘perfect’? Really, Kevin, that’s the world you want to use to define Clu’s function? Let me list the reasons why it’s a bad idea:
1. Perfection is pretty much an impossible goal to reach. Something can nearly always be made faster/more efficient/better.
2. ‘Perfect’ is actually a very broad description. Perfect in what way? Your idea of perfection may differ from others’.
3. Perfection is, by definition, a rigid concept. It’s something that exists as an ideal, not reality.
But hey, everything will be fine if Clu learns and changes his mind, right? Bzzt, wrong! It’s established fairly early on that programs don’t just randomly change their function (at least, not on their own). Tron has been fighting for the users since 1982 (until Clu corrupted him). That’s like a bajillion years in Grid-time. Clu1 died because he was carrying out Kevin’s instructions. Clu is still a type of program, even if he is more advanced/special/whatever. He’s stuck following his directives, creating the perfect system as Kevin defined ‘perfect’ when he made Clu.
Which brings me to:
the shaping of clu, or: kevin flynn is an ass
Let’s all just admit it. Kevin Flynn is a grade-A asshole, okay? He may not be one intentionally, but he is. I mean, I like the guy, but seriously. Seriously. You are a douche.
Here are some reasons, as they pertain to Clu:
1. He calls the world outside the Grid the ‘real world.’ To Clu’s face. After Clu expresses concerns about Grid stability to him. (This is from Betrayal.)
2. He keeps on leaving Clu/Tron/the Grid without resolving any problems, even as he promises to fix things. (Note: he does this in the user world too, so it’s not just Clu, but that actually damns him more.)
3. He never explains himself until the very end of Legacy. He takes programs for granted – everything is about him and his problems until he gets into his meditation phase.
4. Bonus: THE WAY HE TREATED SAM. Argh, Kevin, if you can’t even treat your son well, the son you profess to love more than anything, how well is Clu going to fare?
Yes, there are mitigating circumstances for most of the instances where Kevin shows off his assholery, but not all of it can be excused. Part of it is that Kevin doesn’t pay attention to the people/situations around him, so he acts inconsiderate and selfish. And he’s stubborn. Very stubborn.
So what does this mean for Clu? Well, Clu’s definitely inherited some of Kevin’s personality; he’s a stubborn asshole too. But he starts off as this helpful, hopeful program that wants to make the Grid a better place! What changed?
1. Without Flynn there to oversee his emotional/moral development, he “grows up” both incredibly independent and incredibly dependent at the same time. He’s independent in that Kevin doesn’t give him too much direct supervision in running the Grid, but he’s dependent in that he pretty much has to do everything Kevin tells him to.
2. Like any other individual, Clu doesn’t like being neglected and reaches out. He tries to get Kevin’s attention.
3. When being rational and asking for attention doesn’t work, he gets angry and rebellious. He lashes out.
4. When Kevin continues to be oblivious, Clu resorts to desperate measures and implements his coup. This is also at least partially motivated by his jealousy of the ISOs.
So what does he do? He figures out a way to piss Kevin off, get rid of his ISO problem, and make the Grid more perfect, all at the same time. Looking at it that way, corrupting/killing all the ISOs is a brilliant plan. (This is when rationality and that pesky lack of moral maturity issue become relevant.)
liberator, luminary, and leader: why clu is a morally ambiguous character
Tbh, Clu is pretty explicitly portrayed to be in the wrong. Our first introduction to him as a character is his menacing swag as he orders Rinzler to kill our protagonist (Sam); he is punished for his ‘evil’ actions; his plans are thwarted; you get the picture.
However, he also has these great flashes of depth –his speech to his army of repurposed programs, for example, echoes Kevin’s televised speech shown earlier in the film, and Kevin gives that monologue about how everything was ~all Kevin’s fault~.
Because of his programming, Clu has to work to create the perfect system; he wants it. But Kevin seems to be pulling away and favoring the ISOs, so Clu figures out a way to eliminate them and spite Kevin (petty revenge + telling himself he’s fulfilling his function). He’s got a reason for acting the way he does. Not a particularly good one, I’ll admit, especially if you’re looking at his actions from a human-centric point of view, but take into account the fact that he’s an AI, that he lacked guidance, that the Grid isn’t the user world and programs aren’t treated like users are.
Let me explain that statement: programs aren’t treated like users are. (Guess what, guys? It’s time to talk about the quasi-religious undertones prominently present throughout the movie(s)!)
“It’s the Creator!”
Here we come back to the fact that Kevin is a dick. In this case, his dickishness has its basis in the way that everybody treats him when he’s on the Grid. In there, he’s basically a god; programs practically worship him (except Clu, but remember that Clu is made by him ~special~) and he can create/destroy pretty much anything. Clu? Clu is meant to be doing the job that Kevin should be doing but doesn’t have time for, but he can’t do the same things Kevin can do. He can’t create programs; he can’t fix the sources of gridbugs or large glitches (as we see from Betrayl); he doesn’t have access to the ‘master key’ (whatever that is, we never really know).
Without Kevin’s help and attention, Clu is, generally, being set up to fail. Oh, he can fix some things, and keep things running in Kevin’s absence, but he does need Kevin’s help to fix all the really big problems.
(Note: as to how Clu maintained the city with Flynn in exile, I say: LET’S DO THE
TIME WARP DISNEY HANDWAVE AGAIIINN. No, but actually it’s my belief – kind of supported by Betrayal? – that gridbugs/glitches/other problems are caused by unpredictability or chaos in the Grid. This includes ISOs, because they don’t have clearly defined functions and can basically do whatever the hell they want. Under Clu, everything has a place and chaotic elements are derezzed with prejudice, so there’s actually less instability.)
So Clu’s fucked no matter which way you turn. He wants Kevin’s attention but Kevin is an ass, so he tries to do stuff himself. But he can’t do stuff himself, so he needs Kevin’s attention. It’s a vicious cycle. And in the end he
turns to the dark side becomes the program we see in Legacy.
The really sad thing about Clu is that he can’t really change. If he were able to adapt, if he weren’t so chained to his core programming (“I will create the perfect system”) we might not even have a movie (which would be sad, but better for Clu).
Alternatively, Kevin could have not been a dick but we all know how impossible that would be. Clu may have been portrayed as evil in Legacy, but a lot happened to him to make him that way.
aspects of the movie that invite exploration, or: you could have had it aaaallllllllll~
Okay, these last two sections are basically just me
pouring out my bitter fangirl heart pointing out where Disney could have cleared things up/made the movie better/made the movie worse/done something differently. This part is stuff that actually could have happened. The next part consists of wild, wild speculation and wishful fanfic ideas.
1. More backstory on Clu, please. Alternatively, actually define what he is? It would make things so much clearer!
2. Expand more on him fondling those gravity balls. He has physics hacks? HOW COOL. Why don’t we see him using them any other time/way?
3. MAKE A CHARACTER THAT GETS SCREEN TIME IN THE MOVIE BESIDES CLU REALIZE KEVIN IS A DICK.
4. Do some really cool ambiguity stuff with the circuit colors. Zuse is blue but supports Clu? Clu is yellow, not red? Why are some programs green? Can Sam assimilate colors like Kevin could in the 1982 Tron? Are there program spies? Can we have a spy movie set in the Grid? Can that be a TV show?
5. Explore the religious aspects more and how Clu rejects Kevin as a deity, ahhhh. (tbh still not sure whether I really like or really hate the religious undertones.)
6. Explain this ‘Master key’ business, please. What can Clu affect/not effect? What restrictions does he have on his code/programming/permissions?
7. and I’m sure there’s more but I can’t think of them right now.
i will create the perfect hypothetical, or: things i wish would happen but never will
1. Clu actually makes it out of the portal and takes over the world.
1a. Clu makes it out of the portal and fails miserably to take over the world (I think this actually exists in a fic somewhere?)
2. Clu traps Sam in the Grid. (You have no idea how much sidingwithClu!Sam I have on my harddrive that will never see the light of day.)
3. We get to see Clu be a badass and ruthless general, converting programs to his cause and derezzing rebels on the streets, waging a war on the Grid – oh wait, you say that exists already in Uprising? BUT WHERE’S CLU??? (No I’m not bitter about him not being the main bad guy why do you ask?)
3a. TRON LEADING THE REBELLION (I mean Beck I do like you but you are so DUMB sometimes)
4. Sam realizing his father is a jerk and siding with Clu/vaguely sympathizing with Clu until his love for his father/disgust with Clu’s methods drive him away.
5. AN ENTIRE SHOW ABOUT CLU. A SHOW ABOUT EVIL CLU. A SHOW CASTING CLU AS THE PROTAGONIST AND KEVIN AS THE ANTAGONIST. A GRID DOCUMENTARY CLU MADE DECRYING THE REIGN OF THE USERS, GIVING US A GLIMPSE INTO WHY SO MANY PROGRAMS FELT BETRAYED BY KEVIN’S NEGLECT (more religious parallels to be had here).
6. ALL THE CLU, ALL THE TIME.
i’m so sorry for wordvomiting all my clu feels at you guys