The Philosophy of Logan – Wisecrack Edition
Logan is one of the most unique superhero movies to come out in the past decade. That’s largely because it’s not a superhero movie at all, it’s a Western. What makes Logan a masterpiece is how it takes some of the defining themes of the western genre- violence, enclosure, and the end of an era- and updates it to not only reflect the final moments of one of the most beloved comic book characters of all time, but to make a rather sly statement on the current state of the film industry. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on The Philosophy of Logan.
Written by: Alec Opperman
Research by: Austin Smidt
Directed by: Camille Lecoq
Narrated by: Jared Bauer
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com/)
Assistant Editor: Andrew Nishimura
Motion Graphics by: Drew Levin
Produced by: Jacob Salamon
The Philosophy of Logan – Wisecrack Edition
Hey Wisecrack, Jared here and today we’re talking about one of the best superhero movies in years – Logan. Logan is radically different from other superhero movies, and especially other X-Men movies. That’s because, well… it’s not really a superhero movie at all. This fresh approach to the franchise puts forward a surprising message about the world’s relationship to nature, and even a metacommentary on the Marvel Cinematic Universe that you might have missed. Welcome to this Wisecrack Edition on the Philosophy of Logan. And you guessed it- spoilers ahead. But first a quick recap. Logan is the heart-tugging tale of Wolverine, Charles Xavier, and a mute refugee kid evading cyborg child predators out to weaponize mutancy. It takes place in a future where mutants have become nearly extinct, and Logan drives an Uber to save enough money to escape from the law with Charles. Before we can dive into the philosophy, we have to understand what the movie is: it’s a Western. And not just because it’s sandy and takes place in, you know, the West.
According to sociologist Will Wright in his book “Sixguns and Society,” the classic Western follows a pretty standard structure: our hero, often a man “from the wild,” enters a social group, gets dragged into a conflict to protect his new civilized, but weak, friends, before finally saving the day, and usually, becoming a part of this new group. To grasp Logan’s Western roots, pay attention to the “from the wild” part. Throughout all the X-Men movies, both good and bad, we’re reminded of Wolverine’s animal nature. Logan doesn’t really find a new group of friends, but finds a family with Laura and Charles, and later, with the other Transigen kids. The film makes a point to juxtapose the civilized love of his friends with his innate “wild nature”: there’s Logan’s violence, his resilience to pick up Laura in the first place, his swearing, we even get some distinctly animal-like noises while Logan is sleeping.
As an ode to all this, we see Charles and Laura watching a classic Western in their hotel room: Shane. In the film, our gun-slinging hero Shane emerges from the wild, makes friends with some homesteaders, and saves them from a cattle baron. Shane realizes his violent ways have no place in society and rides back into the woods, perhaps to die, depending on who you ask. Replace “homesteaders” with “family” and “cattle baron” with “megacorporation” and you’ve got Logan in a nutshell. A very deliberate nutshell. But as much as Logan is a Western like Shane, it’s also a “post-Western” in the tradition of movies like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. A Post Western discards the tired black and white binaries between good and evil and explores what happens when these men of the Wild West return to a drastically different world- one that has moved past them. They are, in short, about living in the “end of an era.”
Just as a post-Western might feature a cowboy whose violent nature is a relic from the pre-industrial era, Logan features s Wolverine as a relic from the age of Mutants. He, like a post-Western hero, has to grapple with what it means to be living in a new world- a world where mutants are nearly extinct. The only evidence of Logan’s former world is in X-Men comic books. With that in mind, we can start to understand what Logan is trying to say about nature. All we need is a little help from a 500-year-old English legal practice. Let me explain. “Nature”, as a theme, is everywhere in Logan. Charles tends a garden, Logan wants to escape the world and live on the open seas, and Charles compares Laura to wildlife.
Nature is also juxtaposed with technology: natural mutants are set against cyborgs, twice we’re reminded Laura isn’t natural, the family farm is pit up against a giant agricultural company pumping corn syrup into our bodies, and Charles laments being “pharmaceutically castrated” by all the drugs he’s taking. And Logan, a natural mutant, is being killed by his artificial adamantium skeleton. There’s a specific historical development that embodies this struggle, and can teach us a bit about how our world, and Logan’s, works. It’s called “enclosure. Enclosure was an English practice of taking communal land, free for anyone’s use, and “enclosing” it into private farms; cutting it off from the public. The underlying logic is: take something open, unpredictable, imperfect, and uncontrollable, and “order” it with rules and law, to the detriment of the public. In the West, vast open swaths of land were free for animals to graze in, before the advent of barbed wire encouraged farmers to fence them in, to the detriment of these free spaces.
Enclosure not only motivates the conflict in Shane, but all the themes in Logan seem designed to reflect it. In Shane, a group of homesteaders duke it out with a cattle baron to see who has the right to order the West: whether that order is for everyday people or for the cattle baron’s moneyed interest. In Logan, the Munsons duke it out with Transigen over this same issue of land use. A conversation about eminent domain: becomes very enclosure-esque as public water becomes unavailable to the Munsons. becomes very enclosure-esque as public water becomes unavailable to the Munsons. And Logan yearns to be on the open ocean, a place free of borders and the creeping encroachment of corporate enclosure. But this focus on enclosure takes on ANOTHER meaning as Logan and Charles duke it out with Transigen to see who has the right to order the future of mutancy.
See, Conflicts of enclosure are not necessarily of open space, but, well, everything. As writer Raoul Martinez notes, “Enclosure has moved beyond… territories, extending the reach of markets into every corner of our lives… In what some have dubbed ‘an enclosure of the mind’, intellectual property rights are being extended to include facets of life that were once considered uncommodifiable. …algorithms, symbols, words, ideas, seeds and even human genes. In other words, if Pythagoras were alive today, someone would patent his theorems and create some kind of triangle-based startup. Ideas, which once freely contributed to society, are patents and commodities to be traded. Gene sequences freely available in nature are becoming the intellectual property of pharmaceutical companies. Transigen has turned the genetic information of Wolverine and countless other mutants into patents and R&D projects.
It’s not just that companies are making a profit off somebody else’s genes. The core logic of enclosure is turn any semblance of the “commons,” which is unmanageable, and potentially dangerous and turn it into something manageable, When it comes to the enclosure of genetic material, the naturally occurring version becomes a liability to corporate interest seeking to profit off their own artificial version. Hence, the wild west of naturally-occurring mutants must end. Just as Shane marks the end of lawless open land, Logan marks the end of organic mutancy. Mutant powers are fine, so long as they are in the hands of a corporation that allegedly has everything under control. Meanwhile, events like Charles’ seizure become proof that natural mutancy is dangerous and uncontrollable. Enclosure creates a world where “safe” and “business-friendly” are walled off from the unwieldy wild, and anything outside those borders must slowly be incorporated into it.
The logic of borders, both real and metaphorical, are not lost on Logan. The beginning of the film shows us Logan navigating between the United States and Mexico, the border operates to let American businessmen and party-goers in and out, in the service of business, while presumably keeping everything else out. This creeping control of business into all aspects of life frames Logan’s internal struggle. A man who drives people around for money, Logan only initial risks his life for Laura for a fat stack of cash. Meanwhile, Charles serves as a counterpoint: all of that gardening stuff becomes a compelling metaphor for Logan. Charles nurtures people out of compassion, and encourages Logan to care for Laura regardless of money.
This nurturing attitude is juxtaposed with Pierce, who reminds Caliban: “I’ve got a theory that people don’t really change” and Dr. Rice who prefers artificial design over nature. The real battle for Laura is a battle for her soul: will she be like Logan, a man who ‘can’t break the mold,’ or can she avoid his mistakes by living with a nurturing family? Logan eventually seems to side with Charles, opting to refuse the money from Laura and giving up his life. Logan’s nemesis, X-24, is a soulless version of himself, a compelling reminder of what he could have been: a mindless mercenary at the beck and call of his corporate masters. In the final showdown with the Reavers, we get a real captain planet moment as the kids use elemental forces, ice, electricity and grass, to kill Reaver. Laura gives a eulogy for the fallen Logan, reciting the words from Shane.
In Shane, these words justify his retreat back into nature. While his violent ways saved the homesteaders, they can never exist alongside the town they hope to build – devoid of violence. Shane can’t break the mold – and neither can Logan. Laura’s words remind us that Logan’s violence was incompatible with the future Charles hoped for Laura – but his violence also enabled them to build that better future, free from violence and the interference of people like Transigen. It’s the “end of an era” for the X-Men, and Logan’s sacrifice established a new world for his daughter. So while Logan shows a triumph over the logic of enclosure, what if this also served to be a sly commentary on the state of comic book movies. Logan accomplishes this “end of an era” schtick really well, in the movie, but also as early as the marketing campaign. Remember that Post-Western stuff before? The original post-Westerns were about the “end of the Wild West.”
Our uncivilized and free cowboys have settled off to live a peaceful existence, before being drawn back into a “West” they no longer recognize. And for us, the viewer: we are drawn back into the world of the X-Men, but confronted with a strange and alien world. But what if also something really meta going on here? Let’s not forget that Westerns were Hollywood’s bread and butter for many years, similar to how Superhero movies are today. If we want to reframe “nature vs business” to “artistry vs business,” the struggle of Logan as a character reflects the battle over the “soul” of Wolverine. In the ruthless profiteering world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and their pissing contest with Fox – who owns the X-Men rights – nothing is sacred: Marvel allegedly cancelled Fantastic Four comics to deprive Fox of source material, Fox will sue the hell out of Marvel if any of their movies dare say the word “mutant,” and entire movies are made just so that Fox, Sony, or Marvel can retain the rights to certain franchises *cough* The Amazing Spiderman.
Marvel allegedly cancelled Fantastic Four comics to deprive Fox of source material, Fox will sue the hell out of Marvel if any of their movies dare say the word “mutant,” and entire movies are made just so that Fox, Sony, or Marvel can retain the rights to certain franchises *cough* The Amazing Spiderman.