I initially thought the pitch for Logan must have been “We’re going to do the worst re-make of Logan’s Run ever,” but having actually seen the film, I doubt this is the case–not because it was a good re-make of Logan’s Run but because it was a good film. The pitch I would use for it is: geriatric psychoanalysts Freud and Jung go on one last road trip while pursued by a Terminator. I would warn you that spoilers will abound, but–as with any road trip–this is about the journey rather than the destination.
Starring Logan as Freud
“Sigmund Freud divided the forces in human nature between the Eros instinct, the impulse within us that propels us to become close to others, to preserve and conserve, and the Thanatos, or death instinct, the impulse that works towards the annihilation of all living things, including ourselves.” (Hedges, 2002, l 1599-1601)
In the future, Logan works as a chauffeur–literally a driver–and we see him driving party bimbos that flash their tits at him and we see him driving grieving family members at a funeral and thus we literally see the drives of sex and death with Logan at the crux of them. Logan wants to die rather than slog through the undignified decay of going through sickness unto death, but he can’t bring himself to do it. As Camus wrote, “The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s, and… we get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking” (1955, p 8) and so Logan merely plans his sudden death for some point in the future while his daily suffering continues.
Logan’s suffering–which isn’t adequately explained in the film–has clearly sapped his libido, leaving him more cantankerous and anti-social than we’re used to seeing even the Wolverine come off as. But he’s “caring” for Professor X with the help of Caliban. His version of caring involves drugging Professor X to reduce his–admittedly dangerous–expansive mind. But this was also the core of the conflict between Freud and Jung: while Freud preferred a reductionist view of psychology, Jung wanted to expand his understanding of the human experience.
Also Starring Charles Xavier as Jung
“An incessant stream of fantasies had been released, and I did my best not to lose my head but to find some way to understand these strange things. I stood helpless before an alien world; … often I felt as if gigantic blocks of stone were tumbling down upon me. … Others have been shattered by them—Nietzsche, and Hölderlin, and many others. But there was … no doubt in my mind that I must find the meaning of what I was experiencing in these fantasies. When I endured these assaults of the unconscious I had an unswerving conviction that I was obeying a higher will, and that feeling continued to uphold me until I had mastered the task. ” (Jung, 1963, l 3127-3134)
Jung embraced the complexities of the human mind that emerged from simpler drives; rather than try to fit people into the little Freudian box, “a rather bizarre sort of box painted with bourgeois motifs” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1972), he wanted to connect people into their evolutionary past and their social future. This comes out in the film, first with Logan keeping Xavier locked up in a water tower and trying to keep his psychic powers suppressed with drugs, but then with Xavier trying to get Logan to connect with Laura. Indeed, Charles spends most of the film resenting Logan’s implicit suggestions that he should curl up and die and bitterly counter-suggesting that Logan would be a better person if he actually engaged with anybody else at all.
Xavier’s expansionism isn’t entirely safe: he sometimes causes mass psionic lock-ups that he doesn’t control, and his desire for connection causes him to underestimate the danger that he and Logan are leading around on their cross-country trip. But he–or Sir Patrick Stewart–owns a pair of crucial scenes: First, in showing that society is both bigger than the individual but also reliant on the individual, he watches a movie (Shane) with Laura telling her all about the cultural and personal significance of the film so that she understands it not just as a passing anomaly in her life, but as something of relevance to her as a person and worth retaining (which she does). Second, in the strange automated truck accident scene, where the Freudian Logan dismisses any social obligation to the family trying to recover their horses with the assertion that “Someone will come along,” the Jungian Xavier counters that “Someone has come along”–a replaying a long-standing conflict between ignoring the needs of others for the benefit of the self and immediate family versus the expansive concern for the society we want to live in. Xavier’s portrayal here is consistently and clearly in pursuit of transcendence–as has always been the case for the gifted schoolmaster, but here it is in sharp relief–both for himself and his reductionist, primally driven colleague.
Featuring Caliban as Freud’s Conscience
Logan keeps Caliban (the albino) in the dark. Caliban tries to help with Xavier but mostly just complains at Logan, like a real repressed conscience might. Caliban’s mutant power is being able to find Logan, just like a real conscience might. And his sacrificial death is an act of atonement, transcending a mere “death instinct.”
And Laura (aka X-23) as Jung’s Archetypal Future
There are actually a lot of kid-mutants in this film, but Laura–Xavier insists on calling her by an actual name–is fixated on Laura’s survival specifically and tries to make Logan feel like this little abomination made from his DNA should count as his daughter. Logan does not recognize the child and certainly never knew (in any sense of the word) the mother, so he is slow to pick up on the archetype that Xavier (as Jung) is playing off of: the non-sexual pairing of man (as defender) and girl (as symbol of future potentialities). This particular pattern really got highlighted in the Bioshock series, was at the core of The Professional and Samurai Champloo, was sort of how X-Men started with Rogue and Wolverine, et cetera. And here it is again, with Professor X placing his hope that mutants might get a fresh start on a little girl.
And X-24 Et Al as Skynet Incorporated
The villains are functionally a corporation because of course they are. And despite drones and cyborgs and entirely disposable soldiers, they decided that spawning a bunch of mutants would be a profitable thing to do, in much the same way 20th Century Fox keeps on spawning X-Men films. Their motivation is murky: they initially want to capture X-23–they do not call her Laura because they consider her to be property–which is odd because they don’t seem to care about the other escaped kids at all, but then they unleash X-24 because they’re slow learners and want to see their tightly-controlled technological menace wipe out everything that’s human.
Corporate ownership of things that are not property is the somewhat ironic evil in this movie. When the X-24 is unleashed, it turns out to just be a clone of Logan, not far off from Peter Cushing’s creepy presence in Star Wars: Rogue One. And X-24 kills Professor X to express the primacy of the primal drives: people didn’t pay to watch a geriatric old man pass symbolic culture and meaningful rituals on to some foster kid, they came to see Wolverine cut some people up! This line of symbolism is completed in death: the unnatural X-24 impales the more-natural Logan on a natural tree branch, Laura blows X-24’s head open with an unnatural bullet.
There is a counter-line in the movie which necessarily defends fan-fiction: the evil corporation asserts that it can own people, but we see those people as characters, and those belong to our culture as it is woven into our subconscious. While Logan dismisses the X-Men comic books as fictional trash, Professor X defends them as real to Laura; the unauthorized garbage that rips off their lives is how Laura first comes to relate to them. Similarly, the corporate studio should generally prefer to let fan-fiction flourish such that the characters they intend to profit off of are more relateable to the audience than the dialog-free murderbot known only as X-24. More critically, however, a corporation is not a conscious entity and does not intrinsically benefit from society’s culture and thus should not be allowed to assert an ongoing legal uniqueness in keeping, preserving, or advancing culture.
But there’s a more life-applicable consideration that comes out from the kids’ plan to meet at coordinates chosen from a fictional location: a cultural artifact, even one that is false, even one that is known to be false, can still become the basis for future truth if people work to make it so. And this potentiality is why we should generally chose an expansionist Jungian perspective over a reductionist Freudian perspective: because our society’s asserted values are neither established facts nor bullshit lies but what we, as citizens, must symbolically perform every day.
The last element that Logan brought out that I’d like to observe is the child’s reverence for the adult, not necessarily because of what the adult is but because of what the adult seems to mean to them; the mystique of the grown-up, if you will. As adults, we know that pretty much everybody is just making it up as they go along and we’ve long been disillusioned from the idea that adults are wise and powerful. But kids are easily impressed by adulthood, even if your adult life experiences are simply ones that they’ve not had time for yet. So Laura–who can fight and drive and sedate Charles just as well as Logan can–still looks up to Logan not because he’s actually better than her, but because she aspires to be more like the Wolverine she’s seen in her comic books regardless of what she sees in front of her. And her peers back her up on this: when they shave Logan, they are sending a clear message that they want their mythological father figure that’s able to defend them, not the grumpy old man who’s passed out on a cot.
This provides the crucial turning point for Logan’s character: when he transcends himself and attempts to become what the kids want him to be. He doesn’t do it perfectly, he’s making it up as he goes along and he does it with a fatalistic abandon, but he gives it his all and in so doing gives the kids what they need to survive. By engaging in the absurd pursuit of being who the kids wanted him to be, he was able to become who the kids needed him to be. He was briefly able to recover some of the hope of heroism that too-long of a life spent driving people for sex and death had sapped from him. We should all hope for such an end, albeit a less sudden and lumber-oriented one.
Many of my peers found this movie to be intolerably depressing because all the old heroes they identified with died and only the kids survived. But that’s exactly what I want. See, I work with kids because I have a fatalistic streak and prepping out kids to engage with and shape the future is transcendence on good days and a coping mechanism on bad ones. Thus, on the whole I found this film to be a beautiful affirmation of my life choices. I just hope my kids know more relevant movies to quote over my grave.
Camus, A. (1955). The Myth of Sisyphus. [Trans. O’Brien]. New York, NY: Random House.
Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1972). Anti-Oedipus: Capitallism and Schizophrenia. Viking Penguin is a fantastic name for a book publisher.
Jung, C.G.. (1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections [Trans. Winston]. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Hedges, C. (2002) War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning. Perseus Books Group, Kindle Edition.