[Note: this article contains one or two possible minor spoilers for the movie Logan.]
Like the best superhero movies Logan is about many things. But today there is just one sequence in this savagely beautiful film that I’ll be looking at, one sequence whose implications ripple out into every other scene and theme in the movie and that ultimately brings it all together.
It is the sequence in which the Munson family invites our trio of heroes—Logan, Charles and Laura—over to dinner after the latter help the family round up a team of panicking horses. At dinner they hold hands and say grace, share a delicious meal, exchange light banter and then afterwards retire to their rooms. And later, while lying in bed, Xavier confides something that is all the more moving for coming from the lips of one of the most powerful omega-level mutants the world has ever seen:
“This was the most perfect night I’ve enjoyed in a very long time.”
And he goes on to talk about sharing a warm meal in a safe, comfortable house with your family and those whom you love as if it were the single greatest thing in the world. He asks Logan (and through Logan, asks us) to take a moment to consciously remember that this is what life is all about. Everything else is a distraction.
As I watched this scene my body literally trembled, and it took considerable effort to keep myself from breaking into loud sobs in the theater. Because Xavier is talking about precisely something that I do not have, something that I had once in the past but did not have the wisdom to recognize and thus let precious opportunities go to waste—something that I am fighting desperately hard to regain. Xavier also puts his finger here on the beating heart pulsing at the center of this film: the question of what it is that these heroes are fighting for and, going further, what are the things that are worth fighting for in the first place?
“You should take a moment, feel it. You still have time.”
In Logan, Charles, Laura and the titular hero (and to an extent Caliban) fight and flee, fight and flee, endlessly until it saps at their souls. They fight and flee because they do not have what the Munson family has: a measure of safety and stability. They are constantly threatened by their circumstances, and even their uncanny abilities are not enough in themselves to keep them safe in such a brutal world which, though fictitious and futuristic, is not so different in certain ways from our own. And yet for this one brief moment, they get to experience (and for Logan and Charles, to remember) the whole point of fighting and fleeing: dinner with friends and family in a warm, dry house. Nothing more, nothing less. It really is the small things.
And so Logan asks, “What are you struggling after?” Because maybe, just maybe, you already have it. Take a look around. Are you and your family fed? Are you sheltered, warm and dry? Is the water you are drinking, the air you are breathing, clean? Are you, for the most part, safe living where you are? And are you, for the time being, relatively free of grave injustices? If so, then you have it. You have what Professor X is talking about—you have everything that the tired and battle-worn heroes of Logan are striving for.
When I look at the world I see so many people who have everything I could ever dream of (and then some) and yet they are still so driven to achieve the next big accomplishment. There’s nothing wrong with this in itself and personal achievement has always been a big part of what motivates people. But Logan asks us to pause and ask ourselves just why it is that achievement is so important to us, given that it takes so much of our time and energy. Because if it’s to make our loved ones happy and give them a good life, such drivenness may actually be counter-productive to that goal.
In the film, Logan is driven too. But he is driven because he wants to give himself, Charles, Caliban, and later Laura, a chance at a life free of fear and persecution. It is therefore one thing to be so driven when you are struggling for safety since without that foundation nothing else in life is possible. It is another thing to be so driven when you already have that foundation and you want more.
Regardless of whether the struggle is for survival or for success, when a hero gets caught up in any kind of long struggle it is easy to lose sight of why he is struggling in the first place. For Logan, he gets so caught up in his struggle that he forgets it’s all for the sake of being able to have a life with Charles, Laura and Caliban. Likewise, for people who are struggling for more success, even though the goal is different, the struggle still pulls you away from quality time spent with your loved ones. (Note that of all the most common deathbed regrets people tend to have, wishing that they had worked harder for more success isn’t one of them). Thus the end result of both kinds of struggle is losing precious time with our loved ones until one day it is too late. The key difference is that when you are struggling for safety you don’t feel like you have a choice. When you are struggling for more success you are making a clear choice of prioritizing success over what really makes life worth living: love. Not romantic love but human love.
The choice ‘Logan’ asks us to make
Watching Logan is therefore an opportunity to take stock of your life. Do you have a reasonable measure of safety, stability and basic rights, at least for the time being? If so, then you now have a choice.
Option 1: Keep striving for more and more. Or:
Option 2: Savor what you have. Realize that others don’t have it. Transition a portion of your time and efforts to helping those who do not have safety, stability and basic rights to have a chance at having them.
Again, let me just reiterate that I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Option 1. That’s part of the right that those of us privileged enough to be living in the Free World have. However, I will say this: what differentiates superheroes from just regular people is that they choose Option 2. There is a reason, after all, that in the comics superheroes are in the minority.
There is actually an Option 3 as well. I didn’t list it with Options 1 and 2 because quite frankly it is not a reasonable option for most of us:
Option 3: You don’t have your own basic safety, security and rights and yet you still help fight for those of others anyway.
Like I said, it’s not a very reasonable option. And yet Option 3 is Logan’s great realization and developmental arc. Even though he doesn’t currently have the safety and security that he seeks for himself and Charles, he knows that he did have those things once, back when Xavier’s School for Gifted Children still existed. All that may have been lost, and he and Charles may have been fighting and fleeing ever since, but at a certain point in the film Logan realizes that his and Charles’s time is nearly up anyway. He can, however, still fight for Laura and the other mutant children to have a chance at someday enjoying the same measure of safety, stability and rights that he and Xavier once enjoyed at the height of the X-Men’s careers. And so he makes the greatest possible sacrifice that anyone can. That makes him, at least here in this movie, an extra super superhero.
Logan only shows that Option 3 is within the realm of possibility. It does not ask or expect us to choose the same option. And we can rest assured that Option 2 is still a tremendous choice, a super-heroic choice.
At any given point, therefore, the true superhero struggles for one of two things:
(A) The safety, security and basic rights of himself and his loved ones.
(B) The safety, security and basic rights of others.
Fighting for A is important because it makes it possible to fight for B. So if you don’t have A, go fight for it and Godspeed. There may even be some days when you can do a bit of fighting for B even though your own fight for A isn’t won yet. If not, just take solace in knowing that you are working your way up to it.
If you do have A, then you have a choice to make. The choice is genuinely up to you, but it’s one that you’ll have to periodically rethink and remake because life tends to suck us into whatever’s going on at the moment, making us lose sight of what the struggle is ultimately all about.
The beauty of Logan is that in viewing it, and meditating upon it, we are offered a timely opportunity to consider a classic human dilemma once again and to perhaps, this time, make a different choice. A better choice. Before it’s too late.