My oldest son is 15. He’s very anxious to see Logan, the R-rated send-off to Hugh Jackman’s take on Wolverine.
There were many children, some much younger than my son, in the theater where I saw it for myself last night. It was hard to enjoy the movie at times, wondering what those kids thought about what was going on in front of them. My first thought was that this was no movie for children. My second thought, near the film’s end, was whether they had any idea why the movie felt like one long punch in the gut for the adults in the audience.
A history of violence
The gore is only one reason Logan is such an intense film — and we’ll be getting into spoiler territory here — and it’s not even close to being the most concerning.
Every X-Men movie had Wolverine killing a whole bunch of people, and we all knew emotionally what was going on in those scenes even if clever editing or lack of blood avoided a heavier MPAA rating. Nor is the language that concerning; your kids have likely heard worse, and very possibly in your own home.
It’s the film’s tone and themes that made me feel so beaten up as a parent. Logan deals with all sorts of parental issues, whether it’s disappointing your own father figure as an adult or not knowing whether you’re inflicting yourself on your children by even being there. “What a disappointment you turned out to be,” Professor Xavier hisses at Wolverine at one point, and of course Logan agrees.
But Xavier’s approval is still important to the aging “hero,” even as the older man is dying from the wounds inflicted by what appears to be a clone of Wolverine. “It wasn’t me,” Wolverine whispers as he carries Xavier to what he hopes is safety. It’s important that Xavier knows that before he dies.
Everyone is dying slowly in Logan, and the movie doesn’t do much to hide it. The world itself seems to have cancer, and it’s this dire and cataclysmic tone that feels so emotionally draining.
The mutants are gone because the government is manipulating our genes through soda and food, while keeping the “hope” of the X-Men alive by breeding children to become weapons. At a time when the United States government is publicizing its plans to break up families as an inhuman way to deter illegal border crossings, a film about helping refugee children escape our own government feels way too close to reality.
But the film also deals with the struggle to keep some kind of hope alive in your heart, despite a lifetime of being hurt and hurting others. Wolverine finds something close to a kindred spirit in a young girl named Laura who was created using his DNA; a child who has been raised to kill others and is trying to escape her destiny of becoming nothing more than a weapon.
Just like many fathers who grew up disconnected from any of their own parents or grew up in an environment of abuse, Logan the character thinks the best thing he can do is leave the parenting to someone, anyone, else.
Logan and Laura are mirror images of each other — hissing and clawing their way through life — and they talk as though they are trying to reach each other through the lifetime that separates them. Laura has nightmares about being hurt. Logan has nightmares about hurting others. He tells her what it’s like to have to live with killing other people, and his explanation of his own illness comes with an implicit threat: The adamantium that’s a part of both of their bones will one day kill her as well.
Logan carries an adamantium bullet with him, in fact, as a sick kind of hope. If it gets too bad it’s one of the few ways he knows he can kill himself. It’s a way out.
Neither character was ever taught how to feel anything except for rage and hate. Logan finds himself at a loss for words after burying Xavier, and takes the anger out on his car with a shovel. Laura has no idea what to say when she is later tasked with burying Logan, so she repeats a speech from Shane, the only movie she has ever seen.
There is one happy, functional family in the film. They are killed because they show kindness to others. The movie cuts to credits before we learn much about where the rest of the surviving children are going, much less if they get there.
We have no idea if the cycle continues — if Laura only grows up to know hatred and killing — the same way Wolverine suffered from a lifetime of hurting others and letting down the only parental figure he ever knew.
If Manchester by the Sea has nothing interesting to say about toxic masculinity, Logan the film is openly hostile to the idea that closing yourself down from human love and connection is any kind of coping mechanism. Laura and Logan are both portrayed as victims of abuse, and their pain radiates outward in direct and indirect ways. It’s over two hours of watching hurt people hurting people.
But I wonder if any of that came through to the children in the audience, or if the film is actually more emotionally fraught for adults who have known what it’s like to both be hurt and hurt other people. It’s possible the kids watching the movie saw only the whiz-bang action scenes and thrilled at the copious use of forbidden words.
I’m not sure how I feel about my son seeing the movie, my gut says to give it a few years, but it’s very possible that Logan is much more emotionally fraught for the adults in the audience.