Is Logan the first post-Trump era movie?
I have tried to avoid major spoilers but may contain minor plot spoilers
The movie Logan marks the end of a nearly twenty-year period in which Hugh Jackman has played the character Wolverine (AKA Logan). He is a mutant who has retractable metal claws, enhanced physical abilities, the power to heal wounds that would be fatal in others, and anger on a trigger fuse. Much has been made of the movie’s R-rating (15 in the UK), with previous X-Men franchise instalments being PG13 and 12 in the UK. The violence in the film certainly warrants such a certification, with fight scenes moving away from the cartoonish depictions of the previous films. Here the violence is brutal – ‘it’s nasty, it’s grisly… this is a film in which people do get hurt’. But in another departure from the previous instalments, this is less about superheroes than it is about ageing set against a backdrop of political references that are pressing and contemporary.
Logan is depicted eking out an existence as a limo driver working in the gig-economy. From the very first scenes, it is evident that he’s ageing badly: his wounds are no longer healing properly; his body is decaying from within; and he is in constant pain, only able to move with the discomfort of someone suffering from chronic arthritis. Jackman explained that he took specific measures:
When he was playing older, [Jim Broadbent] would tape a little stone to his heel,” Jackman said. “I would have that, just to remind myself of a limp. [Logan’s] body hurts. His joints hurt. His heart hurts. Psychologically, he’s damaged. What’s the collateral damage of being Wolverine for all those years?
Another of the main characters, Professor Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart), a powerful telepath who could read and control the minds of others, now suffers a progressive form of dementia whose recurrent seizures impact destructively on all those around him. As one character says, he has a ‘degenerative brain disease in the most dangerous brain in the world’ and it is hinted that one of his previous telekinetic seizures killed the remaining X-Men. Overall it is very clear that both Logan and Professor X are done with life and are just marking painful time until their deaths.
These depictions subvert the often-used traditional media tropes of ageing and dementia. Ageing in film often uses a redemptive narrative where the ‘grouchy’ protagonist is redeemed by finding a reawakened sexual or familial love. Similarly, dementia stories often focus on the caregiver burden with an implied subtext of social death for the person suffering from dementia. While elements of these tropes are certainly present in Logan, they are subverted by the tone of the film which is at best bleak: Wolverine has little chance of recovering from his decline; and Professor X, with his foul-mouthed but insightful tirades, is far from socially dead. Further, Wolverine and Professor X’s damaged ageing are linked to their past ‘occupations’ and the economic and ecological precarity of the world they inhabit. Wolverine is unable to access medical support and needs to self-medicate using alcohol to limit his pain; likewise, he must find drugs clandestinely, to control Professor X’s dementia, that are too expensive to purchase legally.
The precarity of their world is a constant dystopian backdrop that hints at a post-Trump age which is not only plausible but may also be likely. In the film, society seems to be managed primarily by a few large corporations who have their own private armies. Most working-class jobs appear to have been taken over by automatons, with little else available apart from service positions. Clean water and the countryside are controlled by agribusiness which focuses on producing high-fructose corn syrup. And borders, specifically the difficulties in crossing them, regularly feature throughout the movie.
The depiction of ageing is further subverted by uncertainty about the genre of the film. Superficially Logan is a Marvel superhero movie, but it also contains active elements of a western (‘Shane’ is regularly referenced and quoted) and a family road trip. A major part of the narrative concerns Wolverine and Professor X’s attempts to rescue a young mutant girl, Laura (played by Dafne Keen), from Transigen, the corporation that cloned her from Wolverine as a weapon. As they take flight from the mercenaries employed by Transigen, the triad of Wolverine, Professor X and Laura form a synthetic family unit. However, Wolverine never fully accepts the paternal role. This prompts Professor X to deliver 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; X’s belief is naive and, in this current milieu, doomed to failure.
The nuclear family is shown to be inadequate and unable to cope with what the world has become. A point emphasised when a family of this type, who befriend the triad, are murdered viciously. As Laura and Wolverine meet up with other escaped mutant children, it seems that the vision of family is one that is itinerant, nomadic, uncertain, communal and devoid of parental figures. Perhaps it is these values we should be looking towards in the era of Trump and Brexit.