I saw Logan a week ago and if I were a good blogger/critic I would have immediately wrote up my thoughts and threw them out there for the world to see with a clickbait-able title and some snarky and/or gushing praise and let the sweet, sweet page views roll in. Unfortunately I’m not that kind of writer.
Oh, it’s not that I have any kind of, you know, integrity or anything it’s just that it takes me a while to process my thoughts and even longer to actually come up with a way to articulate them in any kind of rational way.
That being said, this is not an easy film. It is one that I’ve been sitting with it for several days and…I’m conflicted on my feeling for it.
I suppose I should start out by saying that I enjoyed the film – but it should be noted that I enjoyed it in the same way I enjoy listening to a sad song or reminiscing about a lost loved one; it is cathartic but it is not exactly fun.
Logan is a bleak film. Relentlessly bleak. It is violent in a way that is disturbing and yet it is perfectly suitable for the story it wants to tell. It is a superhero film that does not feel like a superhero film because it is one that has no heroes. One that feels like it has a history, yet it casually dispenses with that history with little regard to continuity or fandom. One that expects us to care about the characters but at the same time itself seems not to care about them at all.
Logan is a film about loss. Logan is a film about sadness. Logan is a film about death. And though it may be wrapped up in the trappings of comic book fantasy, Logan is a film about despair. It does not pretend to be anything else. It does not offer any solutions.
As this piece goes on I intend to talk about this movie as a filmgoer. I won’t talk about the techniques it employs, I won’t talk about the performances (except perhaps on a surface level) and I don’t want to deconstruct this into genre and influences…I just want to talk about the way it made me feel. Superficial, I know. But as I watched this film, and as I left the theater, and the days after as I thought about what I would say about it…all I could think of way that way it made me feel. That will be my focus.
At this point I should say “spoiler alert” as I will be casually dropping plot points and details that will in fact spoil this movie if you have not seen it.
The story of Logan begins at the bottom; it then descends a bit lower, and then goes down some more before finally reaching a point of absolute lowness where it fades out completely. There is no hope in Logan. Oh yes, there are moments when we are allowed to breathe – the dinner scene is rather nice and at times beautiful – but for the most part the story is a decent into sadness.
At this point I want to re-emphasize that I do like this film. I think that it is an important film and will be remembered – maybe not for the reasons people believe it will be now – but it will be remembered. In the genre of “superhero movies” or “comic book movies” or whatever we are calling this type of film it is meaningful and should be respected for doing something unique if nothing else; I applaud the film for doing what it does, even if that thing is disturbing. That being said, we’re about to go dark.
The first thing we see in Logan is violence. Not “comic book” violence, not “cartoon” violence, but brutal, nasty, horrific violence. And that sets the stage. This will not be a film where a punch knocks a person off their feet, tossing then back a few paces or flings them into the air only to fall safely on conveniently placed boxes. No, in this we hear the bones crack, the flesh tear. It is unpleasant. We see from the very first scene that the violence is never something to be cheered; it is a despicable act and one that should cause revulsion. As the relentless killing and decapitation and severing of limbs continue through the movie it becomes a slog, not glorified. Sure the first time we see claws rip through a man’s skull there is a moment of exhilaration – wow, did you see that? – After the fourth, fifth, twentieth time it becomes horrific. The thrill becomes routine, it becomes work.
And this lets us in on the mindset of Logan or rather Wolverine.
If you are a fan of either the comics or the films you will know that Logan/Wolverine has been alive for a long, long time. And during that time he’s been killing a lot. Killing for Wolverine is second nature. To this man killing is not something to be enjoyed, not something to be hated, not something to be … anything. Killing is just killing. He does it so often he forgets the importance (that’s why the Shane reference is important – not to the characters but to the viewer). In this film his killing is a metaphor for something else. Logan/Wolverine’s killing becomes a metaphor for his existence. Try as he might to be an upstanding citizen…the claws will eventually pop.
So let’s talk about metaphors. Because, intentional or not, metaphors abound.
Logan is being poisoned from inside. It causes his immense pain, it debilities him, diminishes him. It makes him feel less of who he was; he knows he is dying. In response to this he pushes people away, he plans elaborate “retirement” scenarios, he self-medicates. Logan has cancer.
This whole movie could be construed as Logan struggling – frantically – scrambling to make amends before the end. He wants to die alone without complication, no connection or attachment. With one exception – Charles – the man he considers father. Help him die with dignity and in a way allow himself to die the same.
And there is Charles – Professor X – the most powerful mind in existence. He’s smart, he’s charming, and he has a charismatic hold overall those who come in contact with him. Only now he’s delusional. He forgets things, he says things that are…not true…but real. He has Alzheimer’s.
My father had Alzheimer’s. The toll it takes on people is…monumental. The way it is depicted in the film is symbolic but no less true. Everyone around him is paralyzed. Frozen. In pain. But has no way to stop what is happening. Sure you can give them drugs and, sure there are moments of lucidity, but in the end there is simply nothing to do. Wait for the end and hope there is comfort as it happens.
In the end Charles has the ultimate moment of lucidity but is killed by what is ultimately a false memory. Metaphors abound.
Laura – X23. A child of abuse. The metaphor is not hard to describe. Raised without love, in a place of horror, her only power is to attack – to hurt back.
And this is the movie in a nutshell.
Three wounded people who continue to wound each other as they desperately try somehow to find a place – a mythical place – to find peace. And that peace is ultimately death.
Oh, I know, that is not a happy thought.
But let’s consider the family.
Logan, Laura and Charles stop in a place that is essentially “home” a place of peace and happiness. And for a moment they are happy. To be fair, as a viewer this is a nice respite to the never-ending downside of not-okay stuff happening. And then that family dies. Horribly. Not for anything they have done, but for the reason they came in to close proximity with despair. They only wanted to be nice, and they died because of it.
This was the one moment in the film that I lost empathy. I understand that the characters suffer, but to have people die for no other reason than they were nice and it advances the plot…that does away with whatever point you were attempting to make. Whatever metaphor was intended…dispelled.
It think this is the point where the film loses its conscience. After this the film just coasts to an ending of violent confrontation (obviously) and it forgets all the metaphors it set up earlier. In the end it just ends. And that’s okay.
In the end there is no hope. And that’s okay.
In the end we turn the cross to an X…and that’s okay.
In fact that’s quite good. A welcome bit of sentimentality in an other wise unsentimental film.
Logan is not a pleasant story. It does not offer easy answers – something uncommon in comic book movies. In the end it is a superhero film with no heroes in it.
No heroes – only survivors.