The discourse surrounding the film Logan (2017) has emphasised its quality in contrast to, not only the films of the X-Men franchise, but comic book movies in general, for the reason that Hugh Jackman has imbued his character with a heretofore unseen ‘depth’. It is the contention of this blog post that while there is more of an emotional dividend from the film, more so than one might expect from the superhero film genre, this critical line requires some nuancing. Logan has been one of the few well-characterised mutants in the X-Men series, and this has been accomplished in the films by narrating his slow, reluctant departure from his strong-silent-Gary-Cooper-type demeanour towards a more pliable and loving attitude, a movement usually correlated with his coming into contact with a younger, female character. This is the case, not only in relation to his clone-daughter Laura (X-23) in Logan but also to Rogue in X-Men (2000), and in X2 (2003); the final scene represents Wolverine walking away from William Stryker with an unnamed young boy in his arms. This is all to say that a gruff exterior melting way, is a fixture of Wolverine’s characterisation in the franchise up to this point.
This post will argue that there is something qualitatively different about Logan’s character in Logan and its attendant thesis regarding familial relations in a milieu of economic and ecological precarity.
The strength of the film’s setting is the uniqueness of its dystopic vision; it functions as a slight modification of the present, in the direction of more overt corporatism. There are references to clean water being difficult to come by, there is a scene on a highway which indicates that trucking is now a job carried out via automation (implying, incidentally, that circa ten million people in this vision of a future America have become unemployed), Professor Xavier requires medication that is too expensive to acquire by legal means and most of the countryside seems to be owned by a food-producing conglomerate along the lines of Monsanto, which produces a ubiquitous food ingredient seemingly analogous to high-fructose corn syrup which functions also as an anti-depressant. Finally, it seems as though the only mode of employment is either as a medical worker, a hired enforcer for a corporation, or a casino worker.
A lot of these outcomes are a reality for many people within the United States today, as a result of decisions made by administrations over the past three decades, but by having so much of the plot predicated on the crossing of borders, and an antagonist named Donald, much of this could be seen as a reflection on Trump’s America, the outcome of the sort of policies (shutting down the EPA, repealing the ACA, deregulation of corporate America, etc.) that we can expect from the Trump regime.
The strength of this approach, I think, in comparison to a film such as The Road, is that it displays the failure of doomsday scenarios to bring about an end to capitalism. The market economy is far from incompatible with ‘the apocalypse’; many of the worst disasters of the past twenty years, be they natural or man-made, have proved extremely profitable for moneyed interests, as Naomi Klein has conclusively demonstrated in The Shock Doctrine (2007).
The X-Men franchise has always been unfortunately strong in its tendencies towards biological determinism — i.e. its emphasis on a reductive, ‘survival of the fittest’ mode of progress. Throughout Logan, that which is insufficiently ‘fit’ to survive, is dispatched, and each death functions as a kind of punishment for the character; it is through reading these deaths that we can reach the film’s stated intention regarding the ‘proper’ mode of familial existence in the anthropocene age.
Having Xavier state directly that lionesses are superior to male lions because of the way they use the claws on their feet is almost analogous to having the film state its thesis directly, i.e. the supersession of a defunct, inflexible mode of being, Logan’s, by a superior one, which is embodied by Laura. Logan’s death seems determined from the film’s outset; it is not novel that his claws or prowess in combat have functioned as phallic signifiers, but it is a first that one of them fails to protrude fully, indicating that he is perhaps insufficiently resilient for whatever struggles will come next. There is of course nothing wrong with any non-toxic form of masculinity, but it’s clear that the text regards Logan’s passivity, the ‘bickering couple’ dynamic that exists between him, Charles and Caliban is negative. If we were open to giving the film a generous reading, we would say the text here uses conservative examples to further the radicalism of its larger point, which is that the conceptual notion of ‘the family’ cannot survive late capitalism.
The claws on Laura’s feet, and her more pliable fighting style, makes her more suited for success in 21st century America which has been riven by the effects of climate change, in which the state only exists as a guarantor of corporate survival, rather than individual or civic. Towards the end of the film, Logan’s fighting style or choreography becomes more attuned to hers; rather than swinging in a maladroit way with his claws, he begins to put in more high kicks, jumps, etc. Further, despite Logan claiming earlier that he doesn’t ‘like guns,’ he uses one to dispatch Zander Rice. This anthropocene order will require the purging of previously held moral beliefs, or at least their suspension. Though the content of Laura’s graveside oration may problematise this.
The X-Men are referenced briefly, in such a way that suggests that they were all killed by one of Xavier’s telekinetic seizures. What unites the demise of family units in the film is that they are all linked to a single location. The radio report in which we learn of the X-Men’s demise mentions Westchester County and it is obvious that even if the Munson family were not dispatched by the Logan clone, it would have been only a matter of time before they were wiped out by the farming conglomerate’s mercenaries. Their blackness should not be neglected in this discussion, and is emblematic of the ways in which the consequences of capitalism’s entrenchment will fall disproportionately upon communities of colour.
Shortly before he is killed, Xavier delivers a speech to Logan in which he informs him that he still ‘has time’ to create a family. This is the belief that the film is working most strenuously against; Xavier’s belief is naive and, in this current milieu, doomed to failure. What characterised the X-Men within the Marvel Universe, was, in Xavier’s mind, their nature as a surrogate family for outcasts, united by their being objects of hatred and fear for the outside world, a misfit family surveyed by a gruff father embodied by Xavier, and a shifting cast of mothers (Jean Grey, Emma Frost, Betsy Braddock, Hope Summers). Their attempt to replicate this conservative and Freudian model which was static, and rooted to one location, when a more flexible, unique one would have been more adaptable or responsive made them vulnerable. Therefore, their model of a family, as providing an in-built horizon of collectivity was insufficient; what form must the family take in these times?
Once Laura’s nurse Gabriella, is murdered, the film depicts Logan’s failure to adopt the role of a single parent. Laura chooses the clothes she wants to wear on the basis of two mannequins she sees holding hands in a shop window display and later mimics this behaviour at Xavier’s graveside. Logan only comes to do so in his dying moments, in a battle not against the film’s primary antagonists, but an older incarnation of himself, embodying this insufficient masculinity, his prior self, dispatched with the bullet that Wolverine intended to commit suicide with; his suicide is exteriorised by the act being projected onto his clone. It is presumably unnecessary to emphasise the phallic quality of the branch that impales and kills the clone Logan.
The familial value system that is validated, is the one which is formulated between the young mutants engineered by Transigen (NB semantic significance), one that is constantly on the move: mobile, nomadic, sustained by imaginative constructs such as the Eden they once saw in an X-Men comic book, or, in Laura’s case, a cowboy monologue in Shane (1957). It is the ethical values that Laura and the Transigen children embody that we should look to, in sustaining ourselves in the construction of a truly progressive society, one that is nomadic, precarious, sustained by the most far-flung imaginative possibilities and almost certainly doomed to failure.
Chris Beausang is a first year PhD candidate Digital Arts and Humanities at An Foras Feasa, Maynooth University. His research uses R programming and neural networks to investigate whether a modernist prose style can be said to persist throughout the twentieth century and in the works of a number contemporary novelists. Chris has had fiction published in Gorse, The Bohemyth & The Galway Review. He was shortlisted for the Sunday Business Post and Penguin Short Story competition in 2017. His website is http://www.analoguehumanist.wordpress.com and he tweets @differengenera