Logan is part of the X-Men franchise but it feels more real – if I can use that word! Unlike many superhero movies, this film is grounded in proper storytelling and character development, rather than a series of events that set up the next explosion. The action is still ultra-violent but feels relevant to the story and isn’t gratuitous, although we do see plenty of claws tearing through skulls.
Logan is a Western and a Road Movie, and like all good films it explores many themes and has multiple layers of meaning: old age and responsibility, the control of nature and transhumanism, the decline of civilisation, disappointment and loss and the pain of mortality, and the promise of redemption on the spiritual path.
The story is set in the dystopian future of 2029. Mutants are dying out and Logan is aging. He can’t heal the way he used to and is being slowly poisoned by the adamantium in his skeleton. He works as a limo driver in the US, but lives across the border in Mexico where he’s in hiding with two other remaining mutants: Charles Xavier and Caliban, an albino mutant tracker.
The old mutants are hiding because Charles is suffering from dementia and prone to seizures that endanger the life of everybody around him. But he tells Logan that there are new mutants and one of them needs his help. Sure enough, a nurse called Gabriela hires Logan to drive her and a young girl called Laura to Eden, a refuge for mutants in the north.
Laura has escaped from a lab run by Transigen and it’s not long before a team of bad guys turns up to retrieve their property, led by the robotically enhanced Pierce. When Gabriela is killed, Logan goes on the run with Charles and Laura. Transigen follow close behind and take the opportunity to unleash their new weapon, X-24, a clone made from Logan’s DNA by Zander Rice, head of Transigen and all-round nutcase. Laura was also created from Logan’s DNA and was born in the lab to an unknown Mexican girl.
During the journey north, Logan struggles to tame his daughter. He doesn’t believe Eden is real because he finds it in one of Laura’s comic books. So when Charles is killed, Logan gives up and refuses to go any further. But Laura won’t take no for an answer. They arrive in Eden to find Laura’s mutant friends waiting to cross the border into Canada.
Logan helps the kids to defeat Transigen but uses up the last of his strength and healing power. Laura buries her father and leaves with her friends to start a new life...
Logan is the ultimate reluctant hero. He was born with retractable bone claws in his hands and went by the name of Wolverine. Later his skeleton was enhanced with adamantium in a nefarious experiment to create Weapon X and turn him into a killing machine. Charles Xavier became his mentor and he joined the X-Men. But those days are long gone.
Now Logan hides his old identity as a superhero and is haunted by the violence of his past. But the world sees Wolverine as a legend, and when Logan discovers that Laura is a fan of the X-Men comic books, he puts her straight. He lived the stories and knows that real life is different:
“In the real world, people die, and no self-promoting asshole in a fucking leotard can stop it.”Logan was always cynical and grumpy, as all good anti-heroes are, but now he’s getting old too. His ability to heal makes him effectively immortal, but there are older wounds that won’t heal so easily. Logan is tired and worn down by his too long life. He’s drinking too much and sick of fighting, desperate to escape the grind of living.
His only purpose is to care for an ageing father figure in the form of Charles, although Logan is actually older because he was born in the late 1880s. Charles is a powerful telepath but his dementia makes him a danger to others as he can no longer control his powers. He lives inside a disused water tank which protects the world from his seizures.
Charles rambles and babbles to himself and often doesn’t recognise Logan. Both of them are past their best and longing for rest. The world has changed and left them behind. Life seems bleak and depressing, with no hope for the future.
In this context, Charles represents the dying king whose kingdom has become a wasteland. He criticises Logan for failing in his responsibilities – it’s his job to restore the kingdom and he can do that by helping Laura the way Charles helped him. In a moment that may be more lucid than it appears, Charles babbles about redemption:
“It’s not about what you do. It’s not about your deeds. You can’t live up to God’s rules. He knows that you can’t. It’s okay, we’re imperfect.”Later we discover he may have been talking about his own deeds, as well as Logan’s.
As a Western, Logan uses many of the tropes of that genre. It draws inspiration from Unforgiven and references the classic Shane, quoting it directly. In Westerns there’s often a wild man – a loner, killer, or anti-hero – who uses his skills with violence to protect a community from somebody worse than him. Sometimes he joins the community for a while, but he’ll often end up leaving once he’s served his purpose.
As Wolverine, Logan started out as a savage cage fighter. Charles took him in and civilised him, but he’s still wild at heart. Now he needs to become a father despite his past. Charles encourages Logan to take care of Laura so she doesn’t turn out like him.
Laura was created in a lab to be a weapon and never had a normal childhood. She’s feral and violent and lashes out when cornered, like a wild animal. She has strong survival instincts, but needs guidance and protection from somebody who understands what she’s been through. On the journey north, she slowly learns to trust Logan and call him dad.
Logan resists taking responsibility at first and even tries to run away, leaving Laura with Pierce. It’s only when he sees her in action, and the mayhem she creates, that he’s willing to help. He guides her in his own rough way, taming some of her wildness to become more civilised.
The control of nature is a major theme and the movie highlights the differences between natural mutants and ones that have been cloned or engineered. There’s a sliding scale of control, starting with Logan, a natural mutant created by nature but weaponised by mind control. Then there’s Laura created in a lab but born normally and then weaponised. Finally, there’s X-24 who was cloned and grown in a vat and is essentially a weaponised meat robot.
This isn’t so much the control of nature but a war against it. This mania is seen as bringing order to chaos, but nature isn’t actually chaotic. Nature has its own order but we don’t like to follow its laws so we try to impose our own. However, it is true that if we want to be civilised, we have to bring a little order to nature – as humans we can’t just run wild.
This theme is also found in Shane in the battle between the homesteaders with their family farms, and the wild west cowboy ranchers who don’t want to be fenced in. In Logan, the control goes right down to the level of DNA and the transformation of human nature itself.
The control freak in chief at Transigen is Dr Zander Rice. He doesn’t just want to control nature, but to command it. He wants to play God. In many exposition-heavy speeches, he explains his dastardly plan to eliminate free will and remove the pesky problem of consent. He stopped any more mutants from being born naturally by adding chemicals to the food chain that modify DNA and alter moods. And with X-24, he has his own army.
“You can’t nurture rage. You simply design it from scratch.”Dr Rice is Kronos or Saturn, the god who kills his own children and demands total obedience. He sees Laura as a thing he owns, to be used or eliminated if she won’t obey. There are no issues of consent with X-24 but Rice still struggles to control it, especially when it’s on a rampage.
X-24 is like a blank slate version of Logan. The clone has no human feelings – no remorse or empathy – it just kills people on command. It’s a golem, made without a soul and powered by rage, a symbol of the forces of chaos and darkness. This is a subversion of true wildness and is what happens when the instincts are repressed or brutalised rather than channelled positively into survival and protection of life.
X-24 also represents Logan’s shadow, a manifestation of his demons and his dark past catching up with him. In order to heal his wounded instincts, Logan has to confront his shadow. He needs to choose between going backwards to the past and destroying himself with rage, or continuing to grow towards integration and wholeness.
The spiritual path towards wholeness and enlightenment is often symbolised as ascending a mountain. In Logan, this ascent is represented symbolically and literally. Logan starts at the bottom of the mountain – he lives in the south – and has to travel north to find Eden. He travels from the southern border to the northern border of the US, ascending the axis of the world.
When he arrives at Eden, the mutant kids are camped out at the top of a mountain, so to reach them Logan has to literally ascend the mountain. But he doesn’t climb it himself.
By the time Charles is killed by X-24, Logan has reached the limits of his endurance. He buries Charles and stands by the grave, unable to speak. Later he tries to start the truck but it won’t work, so he does a Basil Fawlty impression – shouts and swears and kicks the shit out of the truck – and then collapses and passes out.
It’s Laura who gets him the rest of the way to Eden – her fierceness and her faith. Logan is dying so they strap him to a stretcher and winch him up into the light. He doesn’t ascend the mountain under his own power. He can only continue on the path by accepting the help of others and surrendering.
Eden represents a place of refuge, a temenos or sacred enclosure that provides an opportunity to heal. The kids have a serum, taken from the lab, that can temporarily restore Logan to his old powers. It’s a substance that induces rage at high concentrations, but in small doses, it can heal. This symbolises the Chirotic principle of a poison becoming medicine, or a wound that provides healing.
At this point, Logan could walk away and leave the kids to their fate. But he chooses to stay and sacrifices himself in order to protect Laura and her friends. He uses the serum to trigger berserker rage and commits more bloody violence, but runs headlong into his own shadow.
X-24 impales Logan on a dead tree – like Christ nailed to the cross. Laura tries to save him, but it’s too late. In the end, Logan can’t outrun his past. He accepts his fate and accepts the cross.
There is wisdom in accepting the truth of who you are. Logan helps Laura to become free, even though he himself could never be free. He uses violence in service of others, to help and protect rather than mindlessly kill. By helping Laura to move beyond violence, he gives her the chance of a new life and finds salvation for himself.
Before he dies, Logan tells his daughter she doesn’t have to fight anymore and urges her: “Don’t be what they made you.” Laura calls him “Daddy” for the first time – she doesn’t want him to go. A sense of peace spreads across Logan’s face and he says his final words:
“So this is what it feels like.”It’s not clear exactly what he’s talking about. It could be death or redemption, but I think it’s simpler than that. He’s talking about fatherhood and love. Logan finally understands what it feels like to love someone selflessly and totally. Perhaps that’s the same thing as salvation.
At his graveside, Laura gives her father the perfect eulogy by quoting a scene from Shane:
“A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can’t break the mould. There’s no living with a killing. There’s no going back. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks. Now you run on home to your mother, and tell her everything’s all right. And there are no more guns in the valley.”Explore more films here.
Images: Film Stills
First posted: https://jessicadavidson.co.uk/2019/01/07/logan-violence-and-the-sharp-end-of-salvation/