Please note: This piece contains spoilers, and talk of depression.
"Nature made me a freak. Man made me a weapon. And God made it last too long."
James Mangold’s Logan (2017) at surface level is just another addition to the long-running X-Men film franchise. Further than that, it is a skilfully directed and brutally violent western homage. But if you keep digging under everything it appears to be, the beloved mutant’s final donning of his adamantium claws is a stunning character study. Exploring depression, addiction, and facing one’s own mortality.
It is common knowledge that Logan has long suffered with alcoholism. He is almost never pictured without a glass of whisky or a cigar, and his answer to most problems is to fight it out and then head to the bar. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), we see a montage of Logan’s life before he met Professor X and the rest of the gang. He has certainly been through a lot since he grew his claws; fighting in two wars, working as a gun-for-hire, and enduring the procedure which bonded adamantium to his entire skeleton. Due to his healing and regenerative abilities, he has also outlived most of his loved ones.
It is often touched upon in films and TV that immortality is an incredibly lonely life sentence. In Logan, James Mangold examines this idea with an intimate and violent portrayal of self-realisation. Logan learns what he needs to gain closure from his past experiences and find peace within himself.
"Immortality isn't living forever, that's not what it feels like. Immortality is everybody else dying."
– The Doctor, Doctor Who S09 E05.
The year is 2029, no new mutants have been born for over two decades and the X-Men are no more. Hugh Jackman’s Logan (known also by his birth name, James Howlett) now lives life off the grid, working as a limo driver for hire, and caring for Charles (Patrick Stewart) who is all but bedridden with old age.
At the start of the film we meet Logan passed out (likely from excessive alcohol consumption) in his leased limo, whilst it is being ransacked for parts. After a violent altercation with the men responsible, there is a montage of his life as it has been for some time. Driving for various types of people; hen parties, prom parties, and rich businessmen, and taking care of Charles in an overturned water tank somewhere along the Mexican border.
Charles and Logan have a beautifully realised relationship, and those who have been following since X-Men (2000), will have grown up watching it evolve. Myself being one of those people, it was particularly heartbreaking to see what Charles had become. He has the most powerful brain in the world but is now suffering from dementia; a combination that can do some real damage, and the responsibility falls to Logan to make sure he does not hurt himself or anyone else.
The question of quality-of-life came to me when I first watched Logan attempt to make Charles take his medication. He cannot move without assistance and is essentially alone all day, every day. It was deeply saddening to see the Professor in that way, and in showing us this, Mangold tells us that these two heroes cannot fly around saving the world anymore. They must grow old like everybody else, and with that comes a vulnerability that cannot be withheld.
Now, although Logan has aged, and his abilities have begun to deteriorate, technically he still cannot be killed. At least, not without the purest form of the very metal that made him The Wolverine… This portrayal of immortality is unusual, and is commonly represented through the absence of ageing, but Mangold has chosen for Logan to physically change.
The make-up department on the film should get some recognition for their effort in showing this so subtly. With nearly 30 hair and make-up artists credited I couldn’t possibly name them all, but their work is truly brilliant. Throughout the film his face appears older, he has more of a grey colour about him and, though he may heal every wound, they have begun to leave some hideous scars. What this shows is that he has to start being careful, as every altercation could leave the very last scar.
When Dafne Keen’s Laura comes into Logan’s life he is stubbornly against the idea. He does not want to help anyone in this film but Charles. Even when a family lose their grip in the road and their horses begin to walk amongst traffic, he says “someone will come along.” Charles’ rebuttal is a memorable exchange; “someone has come along.”
Laura, or X-23, is the product of an unauthorised experiment on children, in which they attempt to prompt artificial mutations by treating them with the DNA of known mutants. A brief shot of some papers show that some children are the biological sons and daughters of Cyclops, Storm and other recognisable names. The organisation behind it, Transigen, have somehow got hold of their DNA, and these children have been numbered and nurtured to be weaponised.
After a group of nurses help them to escape, they become separated and Nurse Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) attempts to track Logan down. She wants him to take care of Laura and protect her from Transigen. We learn all this through phone footage that ends with a heart wrenching: “She may not be my daughter, but I love her. You may not love her, but she’s your daughter.”
Logan is not a family man. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine he is depicted as having fled from home at a very young age after his mutation manifested in bone claws extending from his knuckles. Growing up, he had an older brother figure in Victor Creed, both were participants in the Cold War super soldier program ‘Weapon X’. This program is where he became The Wolverine we know; with adamantium bonded to his skeletal structure, resulting in unbreakable claws and an enhanced healing factor. However, Victor Creed went on to become Sabretooth, a formidable archenemy of The Wolverine. After this, other than the rest of the X-Men, Logan is not known to have connections or relationships with anybody, or want to for that matter.
Because of this disconnection from humanity he has built all his life, Logan is immediately dismissive of Laura. The tension-building, turmoil-filled road trip that follows her introduction is a journey that is constantly trying to wake him up to reality. She is just like him, adamantium and short temper included, and they need each other.
In the stunning finale, we see the heartbreaking death of our hero, who we have been on this cinematic journey with for 17 years. He fights until his last breath to ensure Laura and her friends can escape Transigen. X-24, a genetically engineered clone of his younger self, is what ultimately kills him, and this feels entirely significant that he dies at the hands of his own image.
As brutal and inhuman as X-24 is, his identical face suggests the idea that Logan is giving himself permission to die, permission to allow himself closure and cease suffering. By this point Charles is gone too, and Laura is all he has. She is the only thing left to sacrifice anything for and he makes the ultimate sacrifice - himself.
In James Mangold’s lovingly crafted piece, Logan comes to terms with his own mortality and what it means to find belonging outside the X-Men. In his final words, as Laura holds his hand and whispers “Daddy” through her tears, something clicks for him. He sighs “So this is what it feels like.” This can be interpreted many ways, but two stuck with me; he finally feels death and rest, but also the unconditional love having a daughter brings. In Logan, The Wolverine rediscovers his humanity and finds his peace.