Times Staff Writer

Films by acknowledged masters of symbolism and surrealism like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini are always ripe subjects for psychological interpretation.

So it's no surprise that Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" and Fellini's "Satyricon" are included in a lecture series entitled "Psychoanalytic Investigation of the Creative Process in Film, Art, Literature and Music" being offered by the UCI Psychiatry Service.

But Steven Lisberger's "Tron," screened Thursday in Irvine as the third in the six-film series, seems to be the odd entry on a list rounded out by Fred Hains' "Steppenwolf," Lewis Carlino's "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea" and Franco Zefferelli's "La Traviata."

After all, "Tron," Walt Disney Productions' massively promoted 1982 showcase for computer graphics and animation, was a commercial and critical failure. Most reviewers drubbed it as little more than a technologically dazzling love letter to Silicon Valley in which computer programmers--"users" in the film's terminology --are treated as gods.

But according to lecturer Jay Martin, who is a practicing psychoanalyst and a professor of literature at USC, " 'Tron' does offer a lot to think about."

Martin said he chose "Tron" for the series because it is an excellent study of the schizophrenic process, and much of his commentary to the audience of about 125 centered on that thesis.

He said that "Tron" accurately reflects the way the schizophrenic mind often works, citing psychiatric reports in which patients see themselves as being at the mercy of machines or computers.

As early as 1919, Martin said, German psychiatrist Viktor Tausk "first characterized schizophrenia as a mental process which is experienced by the schizophrenic as if it were imposed upon him through the diabolical activity of some external force induced by a mysterious machine. The patient's disordered impulses feel as if they are not his own, but are pushed inside from an alien outside."

In "Tron," Martin said, the film's central character of Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) exhibits symptoms of paranoia--evidenced by the names of the video games he created, such as Space Paranoids --and schizophrenia after he is "absorbed" into a computer and must grapple with the computerized manifestations of his own programs.

Interestingly, Martin suggested that director Lisberger may have been so effective in presenting schizophrenia that it made critics and audiences uncomfortable with the feelings the movie stirs.

"The senses of fragmentation, alienation and danger as a way of life; the film's representation of a primitive, paranoid schizophrenic process lying just beneath the surface of behavior, into which we might fall at any time--these are what made 'Tron' so hard for audiences to take," he said.

"Two weeks after release, following elaborate publicity, receipts plummeted by 40% and Disney scrapped plans for 'Tron II.' It is still a disturbing film, for it touches upon impulses and old fears that we would all prefer to push away."

He cited complaints by some reviewers about the rapid oscillation in the first part of "Tron" between the external world of reality and the interior world of the computer. "They said there was no motivation for that. But what I think they were really complaining about was that it is very disturbing to be pushed in and out like that continuously. I think the reviewers were reflecting not an artistic judgment in that case, or psychologically successful operation, but their own disturbance at that," Martin said.

The next entry in the series, to be shown Feb. 7, is "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea," which, Martin says, provides glimpses into problems in the development of the libido and the consequences of developmental deficits. It will be shown, as are all the films in the series, at Edwards University Cinema, near UCI. Tickets are $7, available before the showing. Further information: 831-6631.

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