- “The Grid. A digital frontier. I tried to picture clusters of information as they moved through the computer. What did they look like? Ships? Motorcycles? Were the circuits like freeways? I kept dreaming of a world I thought I'd never see. And then one day... I got in.”
- ―Kevin Flynn's musings
Kevin Flynn is the protagonist of Walt Disney Productions' 1982 film, Tron and the tritagonist of its sequel. He is a software engineer who works for the software corporation ENCOM, creating several video games on the company's mainframe after hours, aiming to start his own game company, however, due to the MCP's intervention, he was broken down into data and transformed into a program via laser, and forced to play on the game grid.
Flynn's hometown is Paramus, New Jersey, where he was born near the end of the 1940s. Flynn got his doctorate from CalTech before joining ENCOM in 1979. As an up-and-coming young programmer, Flynn began developing new video games in secret. A competing ENCOM programmer named Ed Dillinger learned what Flynn was doing and stole Flynn's games. Three months later, Dillinger unveiled the games to the company without even bothering to change the names. Dillinger was quickly promoted, eventually rising to senior executive Vice President. When Flynn protested, Dillinger fired him.
In 1981, Flynn founded his own establishment - appropriately named "Flynn's Arcade" - and filled it with his own creations as well as several other classic video arcade machines. Flynn saw the arcade as the only way he could profit from the games that were stolen from him.
In the 1982 film, Flynn makes several attempts to hack into the ENCOM mainframe via the terminal at his arcade, using his best hacking program - CLU - to try and obtain the evidence that will prove Dillinger's fraudulence.
By this time, Dillinger has developed the Master Control Program from a chess program, to administer the ENCOM mainframe. The MCP finds the data that Flynn wants and attempts to hide it from him, even going so far as to block him from accessing the system. Flynn's actions lead Dillinger to enforce additional security by shutting down all access to the mainframe, including access for ENCOM's programmers. Among those affected was Alan Bradley, who is barred from working on his security program Tron.
Unable to uncover the plagiarism personally, Flynn asks for help from his former lover, Lora Baines, and her new boyfriend Alan, who decide to help Flynn get direct access to computer systems that may hold the incriminating evidence. Their plan is to have Flynn forge a Group 6 access, so that Alan can gain access to Tron again. Then, Alan will command Tron to shut down the MCP, which will in turn release Flynn's stolen file.
Lora takes Flynn to her terminal in a laboratory where she has been working on an experimental laser technology that transported matter. Kevin proceeds to access the terminal, located directly in front of the laser, but is spotted by the MCP almost immediately and fired upon. As his body is broken down into digital information, Flynn finds himself transported into cyberspace, where the MCP notifies his forces of Flynn's true nature and tasks Commander Sark to kill him in the games.
Shortly afterwards, Flynn meets a program named Ram and is told all about the Master Control Program's rules, eventually discovering that captured conscripts are forced to play in the games. Initially unaware that he is participating in "gladiator" games, Flynn realizes the danger of his situation when he refuses to kill a fellow conscript, Crom, in a ring game. Flynn is later transported to the Game Grid to play a lightcycle game alongside Ram and Tron and exploits his knowledge of the game program to their advantage, forcing one of the MCP's gladiators to crash into the Game Grid's wall and opening up an escape route.
Flynn gradually discovers that as a user, he possesses god-like powers in the computer dimension, enabling him to manipulate the world around him at will. He manages to reassemble and reactivate a destroyed Recognizer, redirects an energy transport beam after it has been sabotaged by the MCP, and even saves Yori and himself from being derezzed along with Sark's ship after Sark departs for the MCP. Although his understanding of this newfound power is still rudimentary, Flynn courageously engages the Master Control Program in person and diverts its attention long enough for Tron to disable it permanently. Its destruction returns Flynn to the real world and allows him to access the incriminating evidence he needs to depose of Dillinger, which in turn sees him promoted to the position of ENCOM CEO, and enables him to promote Alan and Lora to the board of directors.
Despite all of the success and wealth his new position at ENCOM gives him, Flynn's time in the digital world changed him deeply and he becomes obsessed with returning there. To that end, he creates a digital frontier he calls the "Grid". Intended as a playground where he can experiment to his heart's content, the Grid slowly but surely becomes more complex and begins to take on a life of its own as it teams with programs of all sorts.
Flynn isolates the Grid in a private server he houses in the basement of his arcade. He hides the entrance to this computer lab behind a TRON arcade game cabinet. Within the lab, Flynn sets up the digitizing laser used to send him into the system. Prior to entering the Grid each time, Flynn will run a sanity check program, as well as updating his will.
Flynn takes the Tron program from ENCOM's grid and installs it in his own. Although he receives help from Tron in keeping the Grid safe, Kevin comes to realize that he can't be in two places at once and recreates his old hacking program CLU to watch over the digital frontier in his absence and hones it to perfection. However, the relationship between creator and creation is strained by Flynn's duties in the real world, such as being a father to his newborn son Sam. After all, in the hours or days that Flynn is away, years or decades will pass in the grid without any influence from Flynn.
In 1985, Kevin's wife Jordan dies, which triggers a profound change in him. In the years that follows, Kevin grows increasingly distant from his life in the real world as he devotes more and more time to his pet project and will frequently leave Sam in the care of his parents. His public behavior becomes more erratic as he begins to promote his vision of a "digital frontier to reshape the human condition." He calls for computer systems to be open and he begins giving away ENCOM software, such as a propriety operating system that Flynn names after himself. Kevin is obsessed with the connection between the human and computer worlds, and in a speech before a large crowd declares, "In there is a new world. In there is our future. In there is our destiny." Flynn also writes a book, called Digital Frontier, that spells out his beliefs.
Some time in 1988, the Grid gives life to a new form of program, which Flynn dubs "Isomorphic Algorithm". Flynn believes the existence of ISOs can fundamentally improve the real world. Kevin visits Alan Bradley and tells him he has made breakthroughs in genetic algorithms and quantum teleportation that can lead to changes in science, medicine, and religion. Alan doesn't give much consideration to the claims, attributing them to his friend's eccentric nature.
By 1989, Kevin disappears under what the general public considers mysterious circumstances, which in turn forces his resignation from ENCOM and leaves Bradley to take his place. Alan assumes Kevin's duties as CEO at ENCOM, but the company's profits falls, and Alan is forced to step down. The company's new leadership lays off several longtime employees and veers away from the open source philosophies Flynn espouses. This upsets Alan, who believes Flynn is off researching his digital frontier ideas and will return.
Alan is partially correct. Kevin has become trapped in the grid following a surprise attack by the now-renegade CLU, who comes to see the ISOs as an imperfection within the system. When Flynn continues to protect the ISOs, Clu turns against him and Tron, seizes control of the Grid and begins to eradicate the ISOs. Tron is able to distract Clu enough to allow Flynn to escape, but Flynn is unable to return to the portal between the Grid and the outside world. It closes, and since it can only be opened from the outside, Flynn is trapped.
Now in exile from the system he has created, Flynn attempts to lead a counterattack against Clu's rule. Since the 2 are connected, however, Flynn's resistance only provides Clu with more power, and it becomes evident that the only way Flynn can contain Clu is to reintegrate him, an act that will destroy them both.
CLU continues his genocide against the ISOs, until only one remains. CLU's Black Guards has cornered this final ISO, named Quorra. One of Flynn's last surviving and loyal monitor programs Anon sacrifices himself to assist Flynn in rescuing her. Together, Flynn and Quorra retreat to his hideaway in the Outlands, far from TRON City.
Realizing he cannot defeat CLU, Flynn remains in exile, training Quorra to support him while adopting a zen lifestyle in a quest for inner peace to come to grips with what he considers his personal failure in allowing CLU to control the Grid and subverts his dream.
After two decades of living in exile in the Outlands, Flynn is surprised out of his meditations by Quorra bringing a guest to him. His now-adult son Sam (portrayed by Garrett Hedlund) has been lured into the system and captured by Clu's forces, later to be rescued by Quorra, and now stands before him. During their reunion, Kevin tells the story of CLU's betrayal and how Sam's arrival has opened the portal again for a millicycle (about 8 hours). When Sam suggests that they leave for the portal, Kevin disagrees. The elder Flynn knows that such a move will play into Clu's plan and insists that remaining in hiding is the safest option.
With the dispute still unresolved, father and son retire for the night. When Kevin awakes, Sam is already gone, heading back to TRON City in Kevin's old Light Cycle. Kevin has no choice but to follow his son.
When Kevin and Quorra finally catch up to Sam at the End of Line Club, Sam is fighting for survival in the midst of a pitched battle with CLU's Black Guards. Kevin and Quorra intervene, however Quorra is left critically injured, and worse; Kevin's own identity disc is snatched from his back as they flee.
Pondering their options, Kevin decides that Sam's earlier idea of racing for the portal will have the best merits, and so he and Sam steal aboard a Solar Sailer that is headed in the direction of the portal. Once on board, Kevin sets about repairing the damage to Quorra's code. He speaks at length of the complexity of the code, explaining Quorra's status as the last of the ISOs. He also uses the opportunity to exchange stories of the years that he has been unable to spend with his son.
The journey to the portal is cut short, however, when their transport docks with a huge Carrier Ship that has unexpectedly appeared in their path. They hide and watch as hundreds of programs are unloaded into the bowels of this colossal craft. CLU's plan to create an invasion force soon becomes apparent.
Before they can do anything more, they see Rinzler moving towards them. Quorra hands her identity disc to Kevin and breaks from cover in a bid to lead Rinzler away. Kevin recognizes Rinzler as Tron, corrupted into serving CLU. Helpless to aid Quorra, Kevin and Sam retreat to formulate a new plan. Sam will recover his father's identity disc, while Kevin procures a Light Jet fast enough to escape in. Kevin is relieved when they rendezvous at the captured Light Jet, that Sam has also rescued Quorra along the way.
The trio are making good progress in escaping to the portal when they find themselves pursued by CLU, Rinzler, and a quartet of Black Guards in small personal Light Jets of their own. During the protracted dogfight that ensues, Kevin and Rinzler catch sight of each other at close range, sparking Rinzler to remember his mission as Tron. Tron eventually shakes off the shackles of CLU's dominance altogether and turns his attack on Clu, allowing Kevin and his younger allies to escape. Out of Sam's view, Kevin secretly switches his identity disc to Quorra.
Upon reaching the portal they discover CLU has survived Tron's attack and finds his way to the portal before them. Kevin and CLU confront each other, with Kevin trying to explain that he's been wrong, and CLU still arguing in favor of system-wide perfection. Then CLU attacks, sparking another brief conflict.
With CLU blocking Kevin's way to the portal, and Sam and Quorra close to escaping, Clu turns to Kevin to retrieve his prize — the identity disc that will unlock the way to the real world. When CLU learns that Kevin in fact possesses Quorra's disc, he runs to the portal to stop the younger pair from escaping. Although Sam tries to turn back for his father, Kevin insists that he'll go and take Quorra with him, hopeful that her existence will change the outside world.
Kevin then taps his power to block Clu from reaching Sam and Quorra. Dragging Clu back by force of will, Kevin pulls the program back into himself in a bid to finally destroy it. Reintegrating Clu, Kevin sacrifices himself in order to save his son and Quorra. A huge blast erupts from the reintegration, consuming the portal and destroying the carrier ship that is drawing in close overhead.
Flynn is mentioned in the 2003 video game, Tron 2.0.
Flynn's chronological age/continuity of existence
Existential concepts related to Flynn's age and appearance in TRON: Legacy are largely unexplored in the film itself. Regardless of the actual duration of time that has passed for him, or how he "appears" while on the Grid, it would seem clear that Flynn has experienced a continual, conscious existence far exceeding that of any other human being in history.
When Sam finally relocates his father on the Grid, Flynn appears to be a man in his late 50's/early 60's. However, his appearance may be misleading—it is entirely possible that his appearance on the Grid is not subject to the normal, degenerative affects of aging as they would manifest in reality. Several novel reasons might explain such discrepancies.
One possibility is that, as the creator of the Grid, Flynn may well have direct control over his "physical" appearance while on the Grid—he may simply have chosen to appear to be a man in his late 50's/early 60's, as would be consistent with his chronological, "real-world" age off the Grid.
Another possibility is that Flynn's appearance as an "old" program may simply be consistent with (or required by) the programming of the Grid itself, much as the (also largely unexplored) concept of "old" programs like Dumont in the original TRON. However, this possibility would seem negated by the appearance of other, "old" programs such as Clu and Quorra that appear to be quite young, even though they are similarly much "older" in Grid time.
Yet another possibility is that Flynn "ages" much as he would in reality, albeit at an (effectively) slower rate due to the time dilation between reality and the Grid. However, this would seem contradicted by the simple fact that, were a user's "real" body to be somehow micro-miniaturized and present on the Grid in a physical sense, their body would presumably age much faster than it would in reality. Flynn's physical aging could simply be tied to the passage of time in the real world, or he simply chooses to look older.
An even greater mystery is the simple question: How old is Kevin Flynn?
(Note: The following calculations cannot account for the unknown amount of time Flynn spent on the Grid from the time of its creation, to when he became trapped there. Whatever length of time involved, could logically only add to the numbers estimated below. It should also be noted that the following calculations are supported by anecdotal comments from Disney marketing materials, but of course these should not necessarily be accepted as canon.)
We begin with the passage of time itself, as it is measured in reality. Per the chronometer briefly visible on Kevin's console when Sam wipes dust from the touch panel and activates the computer, it would seem that the Grid has been running continuously for 20 years, 11 months, 20 days, 16 hours, 22 minutes, and 16 seconds.
Extrapolating from this, based on a few hints and possible references mentioned in the film: Depending on how one measures the passage of time on the Grid, it would seem that Flynn may have been in continual "existence" for more than 1,200 years (perhaps much more), as he would have perceived it.
One hint of this is when Sam notes to his father that it has been a "long time" since they've seen each other, and Flynn replies, "You have no idea." Flynn makes further comments that support this argument, such as his references to "hours on the Grid", seeming to be "like minutes back home" and a "millicycle" (presumably a very short time measurement) being equivalent to "about 8 hours".
While the interested observer is required to interpret certain references (such as "cycle" and "millicycle") without guidance, we may yet have enough information from which to calculate an approximate "age" for Flynn. If we accept the relatively vague statement in the film of "hours on the Grid" seeming like "minutes back home", as a literal ratio of 1 hour on the Grid equating to one minute in reality (a uniform 60:1 ratio), the relative time dilation could be calculated as follows:
- 1 minute in reality = 1 hour on the Grid
- 1 day in reality = 1,440 minutes in reality = 1,440 hours (approximately 60 days) on the Grid
- 1 year in reality = 525,600 minutes in reality = 525,600 hours (approximately 21,900 days, or 60 years) on the Grid
- Ergo: 21 years in reality x 60 years on the Grid ≈ 1,260 years, as experienced by Flynn
This calculation would seem consistent with Castor's statement regarding Clu having sought out Flynn's identity disc for "1,000 cycles".
Another way to interpret the numbers could be as follows:
- 1 millicycle would presumably be 1/1000th of a cycle
- 1 millicycle = 8 Grid hours
- 1,000 millicycles = 8,000 Grid hours = 1 cycle
- 1,000 cycles = 8,000,000 hours ≈ 913 years
This would again seem consistent with the earlier numbers already derived, especially when considering that Flynn and Clu were not always adversarial and so there would have been an unknown period of time during the creation of the Grid for which one must account.
However, the latter calculation would then demand one reevaluate the initial chronometer that Sam first encountered. Is the chronometer reflecting the real-world runtime of the Grid's entire existence? Or is it only the amount of time accounted for during Kevin Flynn's "current" presence on the Grid, as dated from the moment he was last inserted? Or perhaps it is simply a screensaver indicator for the display panel? Permutations deriving from these considerations are likely beyond the scope of this article, but the interested observer should keep them in mind nonetheless.
In addition, one must take into account the fact that Flynn's portal only remains open about eight hours, which puts a tangible limit on each of his visits to the Grid. If we use the assumption that Flynn's Grid time has been about 1,000 years, it would mean time is 50 times faster in the Grid than the real world. The eight-hour limit would translate to Flynn being gone for about 10 minutes of real-world time when he is in the Grid. If the Grid was created in 1983, and Flynn went there every night until the time he was trapped there, then his total real world time spent in the Grid would amount to only about 15 days, hardly enough to factor into any serious discussions about Flynn's aging.
While unlikely, it should be noted that yet another (albeit novel) possibility does exist: If the reference to a "millicycle" ended up equating to a millisecond as measured in reality, Kevin Flynn's continuity would approach a near-incomprehensible 600,000,000 years!
- According to the 4th draft of the script for TRON, Flynn's hometown is Paramus, New Jersey.
- According to the novelization of TRON, Flynn's full name is "Kevin O. Flynn".
- In TRON: Legacy, Flynn has developed a more detached sense of self in addition to his more spiritual view on life, and is also shown meditating. Furthermore, he still uses phrases from the 1970s and 1980s like "radical" whenever something piques his interest, and - following an argument with his son - accused Sam of "messing with (his) Zen thing, man."
- Possibly to symbolize the opposing philosophies followed by Flynn and Clu 2, a scene in TRON: Legacy shows Clu rotating a pair of Baoding spheres in his hand, while a later scene shows Flynn to possess a pair of Yoshimoto cubes.
- His line "On the other side of the screen it looks so easy" is referenced in the Runaways episode "Methamorphosis"