(This reflection contains spoilers, so be aware of that if you have not seen Logan)
First, a quick note on the (should be) obvious- Logan is not your typical superhero film. It definitely earns the 18A rating (something to be aware of if you have personal sensitivities to violence or language). In many respects, the film is also built around a different kind of narrative than the Wolverine films that precede it. It is simple, introspective, and small in scale. It also happens to be very dark. As the character Logan goes on to say at one point in the film, “this is what happens in the real world, people die.”
But Logan also happens to be a beautiful and touching film, a fitting bookend to Jackman’s (now) iconic interpretation of Logan/Wolverine. As it meanders through a sort of Mad Max, neo-Western style landscape, it exposes a narrative that digs deep into the questions of who Logan is and how he has grown and developed over the years. We are given the image of an ailing man, seemingly burdened by the weight of life’s questions and desperate to stay afloat. He struggles to understand the looming importance of his own legacy in light of his own (physically obvious) deterioration, along with the deterioration of the politically charged environment that surrounds him.
There are so many incredible themes that underline the personal journey Logan takes in this film, but there are three that stand out for me:
- The question of Legacy
- What it means to Belong
- The meaning of Sacrifice
The Question of Legacy
This will be Jackman’s last performance as Wolverine, and he has gone on record (in a number of interviews) about his motivation for getting this last one right, of giving the character the film he believes he deserves. In this sense, Logan is a passion project, and even for fans of the previous films (and I count myself among them), I think it would be hard to deny that this film is something special.
One could fairly argue that when Jackman first put on those claws 17 years ago, he embodied a new approach to developing the idea of the big screen superhero persona, and I think in Logan he puts the final touch on making the character fully his own. The two (the real life and the fictional character) have become synonymous over the years, and I don’t think it is too far out there to consider the character “Logan” will remain a part of Jackman’s legacy as an actor for years to come. Likewise, the legacy of Wolverine (and the many other onscreen superhero characters that the character inspired) will forever owe much to Jackman’s interpretation.
In the film, set in a near-future setting, we discover that it has been over 20 years since they last encountered a new mutant, and the community that Logan was once a part of is now gone. In a very gripping fashion, this reality has left him silently (and not so silently) grappling with questions of who he is and what this life is about- this becomes the question of his legacy (or a lack thereof) that he will leave behind as he fades away into the darkness from which he came, a fate that he seems to welcome, and even hasten as he continues to carry around the one kind of bullet that can actually kill him in his pocket.
We first met Logan in 200o’s X-Men, a mysterious man wrestling (figuratively and literally) over the immense burden of a forgotten past, with the only certainty a persistent feeling of brokenness and emptiness that haunts him on the inside; emotions that he channels through a penchant for outward aggression, anger, and social neglect on the outside. Now we find the reality of Logan’s self-healing and anti-aging properties clashing with this rather innate sense that, somehow and in someway he is nearing the end of his time on this earth, and that his once forgotten past (in the form of poison) is finally (and slowly) getting the best of him.
On Jackman’s part, he gives everything that he has left to give to this role, and then some. He helps us experience all of these emotions, both in the nuances of his facial expressions and in the way he carries himself on-screen. I felt every moment of this astute introspective process, and his performance invites us in on the experience as it continues to unfold. But it is the characters that come alongside him in midst of this process (two of them, specifically) that help shed light on the real struggle with the question of his legacy and identity.
When we first meet Logan, it is eventually the Professor who opens up his arms (and heart) to welcome Wolverine into their community. It was an invitation that broke through the wall of his pain and offered him a place to belong and a family of similarly broken stories to exist alongside. This community was intended to be a safe haven for people like Logan, an opportunity to explore the pain and discover where this pain is born from.
In Logan, we find the situation is now reversed. In the early scenes of the film we encounter someone seemingly content to sink into the trappings his own depression, ready to whittle away in the confines of his substance abuse and apathy by drinking his life away. We very quickly realize that some of the substances he is acquiring is actually for the sake of the ailing professor, who he has been hiding in a building across the Mexican border.
There is immense beauty to be found in this idea, the idea that the stuff that we see on the surface rarely tells the whole story. This is what led the Professor to invest in Logan in the first place, and now it is by caring for the Professor that Logan is able to find the strength to believe he is still who the Professor has always seen him to be- which is more than the mess he has made of his life.
There are so many touching and heart-wrenching moments that surround this relationship. The most memorable for me is when Logan looks to the Professor in a moment of exasperation, reminding him that there are no more mutants left in this God-forsaken world. The community is gone, and he has come to believe that they (he) was simply “God’s great mistake”, a mistake that God is now correcting. That he himself should be left to simply fade into the darkness is seen as a kind of poetic justice, but the truth is, he cannot bring himself to see the Professor in this same light. For Logan, the Professor is absolutely worth saving, which is why he continues, day after day, to risk his own life to bring the Professor the medicine he needs to stay alive.
What it means to Belong
When Logan emerged as a part of the community of X-Men all those years ago, he arrived as an orphan, someone without a family, without a place to belong. We now find these same themes re-emerging in the story of the second character to come alongside Logan in the midst of his hopelessness and despair- a little girl named Laura (played by Dafne Keen with a powerful on-screen presence).
Laura says very little (nothing at all for a good portion of the film), but what she does demonstrate is a quiet, and determined understanding of Logan’s struggle. As it turns out, she is also an orphan- actually, as it turns out, she is Logan’s daughter, someone who shares a piece of his history as the product of a laboratory experiment that the government is now trying to wipe out. Only now she needs Logan’s help to get to a rumored community that is supposedly being built for people like her, a place just like the old community under Professor X where she can find safety and opportunity for a better future.
As Laura enters his life, Logan is forced to grapple with what it means to care for someone else, to invest in a relationship from out of his own brokenness. It is heart wrenching to watch him struggle with this idea on-screen, and there is a rather revealing point where he finally breaks down and tells the girl that he “cannot care for her because bad things happen to everyone he cares about.” And in the course of the film, we watch as he tries to bury this care, avoid it, resist it in every way that he can. And yet, in the story of this little girl, the one thing he cannot escape is the picture of himself that lingers every time he sees her, a picture of someone who desperately needed somewhere to belong, for someone to accept him as he was. That Logan is able to eventually arrive at this realization in the film is a big part of coming to terms with who is- someone who did belong somewhere, someone who was accepted and who is now a father to a girl who needs to know the same.
Logan tells a tragic story. People die. The Professor dies. And yes, in the end Logan dies. But it is not so much that they die in this narrative, as it is about what this death comes to symbolize.
When the Professor dies, Logan loses the most important person in his life, the single person he cares about, the one who gave him a reason to get up every, single day. And yet through the lens of this tragedy stands a girl, a girl who is now in desperate need of the same thing the Professor once afforded him. In the Professor’s own dying moments, he recognizes Logan as a part of his legacy, and his hope is that this girl can now become a part of Logan’s legacy in the same way. It is in the context of relationship that we find (or gain) our meaning, and even when Logan feels like he has nothing good to give, the Professor sees a man who is able to give everything that this little girl really needs- his presence and his acceptance.
Through all of the resistance, all of the walls, all of the pain, where this story ends is in an amazing statement of what it means to give out of our brokenness, a picture of what it means to truly give our life for the sake of another. As Logan comes to face some of his past in the film, the real battle, the real nemesis of the film begins to emerge- which is the battle he must face within himself.
Or not really within himself, but rather with a clone that the government has created to look like himself- a version of Logan intended to be even more powerful simply because it lacks the conscious that seems to hold the real Logan back.
What these scenes symbolize and personify is the battle that is happening inside of him, the war between the crippling effects of his personal pain and brokenness and his past regret, and his ability and desire to give and to love from out of these broken places. And this war, this internal (and external) battle, leads the film towards a poetic finish, a final moment where Logan finally stops running and faces his demons head on. It is a moment where he comes to understand the value of sacrifice, where he makes the choice to lose his own life for the sake of this little girl. And what is really interesting about this moment is that it is the bullet, the one he initially intended to use to end his own life, that ends up killing the clone, the symbol of his brokenness and past regrets personal demons. This is what allows the real Logan to emerge, and this becomes the person he is finally able to see and accept in his own dying moments. As Logan “dies to himself”, we are left with a clear picture of a man who is both forgiven, accepted and loved in spite of his troubled past and his present struggle. And by accepting this truth for himself, he is also able to offer this same unconditional love to Laura.
The final scene in the film narrows us in on a picture of Laura standing at the foot of Logan’s grave. In the narrative of the film, the journey they are on (in the desert) is one that is built on the promise of a new community (literally called Eden), a place where all of this group of failed laboratory experiments (the group of kids that managed to escape the governments efforts to distinguish them) can find safety and the promise of a better future. But in this scene, rather than continue to run towards this promised land, Laura stays behind to honor the sacrifice Logan made for her. In a fitting statement, a cross is placed at the head of the grave, and as the camera lingers on this symbol of sacrifice and grace, the little girl gently leans down and turns the cross on it’s edge, forming an X. It is the most powerful moment in the film. Far beyond setting the film up as a lead in for the next generation of X-Men, it stands as a statement that Logan was not God’s mistake and that she is not a mistake either. As their stories meet, they find freedom in the truth that they are loved without regard for their past, that they can belong because they found acceptance in each other, in a relationship.
The Power of Lent and the Promise of a New Hope
It is interesting how films can sometimes play into modern politics with an eerie sense of divine appointment. One has to think that this film was already put together years ago, but we cannot miss the fact that this is a film about a group of kids deemed illegals who are now seeking Asylum over what we come to know is the Canadian border (in North Dakota no less). But even with the rather timely nature of this narrative, there is actually an even stronger symbol sitting beneath the surface, one that lives and breathes the essential nature of the Christian hope.
It is interesting that what drives the little girl is not absolute certainty about where she is going, but rather an anticipation for what this promised land means for her life and the life of others. She doesn’t know that this promised new community actually exists (Logan, in-fact, insists that it doesn’t, that it is a lie based on the words of a fairy tale, man made story… otherwise known as a comic book in the film), but she places her hope in the fact that it does. And so she moves forward, forward in faith, a faith built around the idea that in a broken world, the promise of something good, of love and of healing and restoration remains a hopeful reality.
This is such an incredible picture of the faith that we find in the story of Jesus. What is significant is that Laura never believes that the world she inhabits, this broken environment, is simply one that she needs to let go of or do away with. She is angry, to be sure, but her determination is found in the picture of its future restoration, the idea that things can get better. She believes this because of the small glimmer of love and good that she finds underneath the rough exterior of Logan’s own hurt and abuse. She believes that what is broken can be healed, and this healing comes in the new life she finds through the symbol of his ultimate sacrifice (which significantly happens on a tree).
There is a special moment in the film where the three of them (the Professor, Laura and Logan) are taken in by a Christian family as they are running through the desert. This family offers them a reprieve in the desert landscape, and it gives them pause- a chance to recognize what the desert process is all about, which is the power that they find in relationship with each other.
As I write this, it happens to be the beginning of Lent, a period that symbolizes Jesus’ own journey through the desert, and in this scene I was reminded me of what the process of Lent is all about- a time when everything else is stripped away and we are able to narrow in on what is most important, our relationship with God. For me this was a powerful picture of what it means to enter into this desert experience along with Jesus. Lent is about learning to live in-between the broken places and the hopeful promise, of preparing ourselves to encounter and re-center our eyes on the sacrifice that Jesus made in order to attend to and enter into our own brokenness and suffering (and all that this means for our own sense of belonging in the family of God). It is a desert journey that is difficult but also incredibly beautiful for what it ultimately helps to build in us, which is a richer faith and a stronger character. For Logan, this part of the journey allowed him to see beyond his pain, beyond the struggle, and to see himself more clearly, but more importantly it opened his eyes to the story of a little girl who was also drowning in her own brokenness. He finds his own identity in the sacrifice that Professor X first made for him, and by sacrificing his life for this little girl, he is able to help Laura discover who she is as well.
As we prepare to approach the Cross in this period of Lent, I am reminded that we have an amazing hope in the promise of a new life in the midst of a restored creation. And it is in the truth of Jesus’ own sacrifice that I am reminded that I have been given an identity to live into in the midst of this new hope, a new identity that I continue to discover as I learn to put my faith in what Jesus has done and is doing at the foot of the Cross. It is here that I find that I am a child of God, someone who is loved, someone who has been given a place to belong in God’s family regardless of my past. And it is here that Jesus declares me able to give this same acceptance and love into the lives of others.