I’m an easy mark for stories where the main character coughs.
What follows is a deeply personal reading of LOGAN, though I suppose that makes it a deeply narcissistic reading of LOGAN. But before I tell you all the ways that I’m like Logan the character, let me assure you that no matter your current mutation, LOGAN the movie is incredible. It’s a thing I’ve I always wanted to see in a comic book movie: a small story about what happens after the big story. That’s not to say there aren’t excellent big scale comic book movies, but it’s nice that we’ve gotten to the point where we’ll (hopefully) start seeing more of my favorite kinds of stories on screen–the pieces between the big events. The stories that run into the margins.
As such, LOGAN is the story of a man with a mutation who coughs a lot, has done questionable things to get prescription medications, and eventually uses injections to up his healing factor. Try as I might, it’s tough to not see a piece of myself in there.
Turns out that in their end stages, the fantastical X-gene mutations of the X-Men universe start to resemble the mutations of our world. Professor X’s mind has begun to turn on him (and in fact, may have pushed his death count into Logan’s territory) and Logan’s healing factor is slowing down. His body is killing him from the inside and it hurts to be alive. He’s going through the motions because he can’t quite bring himself to abandon Charles, but he’s wrapping up the loose ends of his life. It doesn’t matter. At least that’s what he tells himself.
The stories I love most are ones where we find out what something means to a character by taking it away. By taking away Professor Xavier’s ability to use his powers to help, we’re still left with echoes of the man who saw a brighter future for mutant kind, though he himself put a nail in that coffin. By taking away Logan’s ability to heal, we’re left with scars.
When Logan eventually runs into Laura, a young girl who–like him–is super adept at decapitations, he has already written the narrative of his life and he doesn’t see room for another arc. But Charles–though addled by dementia–sees one last mutant he can help.
What follows is a story about the stories we tell ourselves. The MacGuffin of the film is Laura’s search for Eden–a place she read about in an X-Men comic. As our real life civilization wages war on reality, it’s important to remember that sometimes we get to decide what’s true. Logan sees Eden as nothing more than an idea in a comic book. Laura knows the source doesn’t matter; if the friends she’s searching for can’t find Eden, they’ll just build it themselves. Unfortunately, the company responsible for her mutation has some beliefs about a mutant’s place in society and they’re working hard to build that future.
After Logan has a literal fight with the worst aspects of himself, he tells Laura something to the effect of “don’t be what they made you.” That hit me hard, because I’ve often felt my mutation trying to turn me into a monster–or more accurately, using my mutation as an excuse to become a monster. Logan’s war was between being the killing machine the government told him he was, the broken down drunk he told himself he was, and the man Charles Xavier always believed he could be. The latter didn’t win every battle, but eventually won the war. It doesn’t have to be a flawless victory as long as you keep fighting. You don’t get to pick every beat of your story, but sometimes you get to choose the direction.
The real victory of the movie is that everything I wrote is up for interpretation. There are a ton of angles one could view the movie from and I’m not even saying that this is my preferred one–just one I hit on over the two days I’ve been thinking about it. If sitting through that garbage PS1 cutscene Professor X from Wolverine Origins was what we had to do to get LOGAN, I officially rescind my long standing request for a refund.