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The Wounded Heart Always Heals

Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers for the movie Logan.

Logan was probably my most highly anticipated film release of 2017, and I made plans to see it with a friend when it came out in March. Unlike my friend—and most black geeks—I’m not into comics. I read my big brother’s Spider-Man comic books as a kid and regularly bought Archie, but I’m not sure I ever heard of the X-Men until the films started coming out in 2000. My immediate favorite was Wolverine, and I began thinking of the self-healing, long-clawed mutant as a metaphor for life—my life, anyway. Our hearts break over and over and over again—yet we heal every time. Whether or not the wound leaves a visible scar, we remember the pain it caused and press on.

Even before we learned of his childhood in Origins, it was clear that Logan was a deeply wounded man who hid his vulnerability beneath a gruff exterior; his anti-social attitude was really a protective strategy for a man who craved intimacy but was cursed with virtual immortality. I liked him for the same reason I like the character of Jason Bourne: Wolverine was weaponized by the military but rebelled against his commanders, went AWOL, and tried to lead a humane life despite his capacity to cause harm. Logan, Wolverine’s final movie, is set in a recognizable world in the near future, and Wolverine has clearly aged. With silver hair and an unkempt grey beard, he looks haggard and self-medicates with alcohol; he walks with a limp, coughs up black phlegm, and heals slowly and incompletely when drawn (reluctantly) into combat. Mutants as a species have been exterminated, and Logan is in hiding, caring for his aged, and mentally deteriorating mentor Charles Xavier with the help of a tracker mutant named Caliban. Logan keeps Charles sedated since the nonagenarian can no longer control his psychic abilities. Yet despite his pharmaceutically induced fog, Charles senses the presence of a young mutant and tells Logan they need his help. Logan’s only goal, however, is to earn enough money to buy a boat so they can further retreat from the world . It’s only the promise of a substantial payment that persuades Logan to drive Laura, a child mutant designed from his genetic material, to North Dakota.

As Logan’s offspring, Laura is an efficient predator. The violence in Logan was shocking and I watched most of the movie with one hand hovering around my eyes, ready to block images of Wolverine’s and Laura’s retractable blades piercing skulls and shredding flesh.  The fugitive mutants are relentlessly pursued by Transigen’s para-military thugs, and it was somewhat satisfying to see armed men cowering at the sight of a little girl. Less satisfying, but not entirely surprising, was the fate of a black family that invites Logan, Charles, and Laura to dinner; all three family members die horribly as a result.  Logan knows they’re putting the family at risk, but Charles craves normalcy, kindness, and human contact; when Logan carries “his father” up to bed, Charles urges him to reconsider the value of family life, insisting, “You still have time.” Logan dismisses his mentor but by the end of the film, after losing both Charles and Caliban, he finally accepts and defends the daughter he never knew he had. Their brutal efficiency as they fight side by side left my friend and I gaping at the screen, horrified. Logan is ultimately overpowered by his evil clone-without-a-conscience, but Laura kills him with an adamantium bullet Logan was saving for his own suicide.  Helping his daughter and her friends—a new generation of mutants migrating to Canada, Logan’s (and my!) country of origin—gave Wolverine a sense of purpose and he dies marveling, “So this is what it feels like.” He is fully human at last and he imparts one final piece of advice to his weeping daughter: “Don’t be what they made you.”

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When I was asked to write a post for The Book Smugglers, I proposed writing a love letter to Wolverine. I thought I would pay tribute to Hugh Jackman’s brilliant performance and amazing physical transformation that impressed and entertained us for seventeen years.

But when I sat down to watch the movie at home, the second viewing took me in an unexpected—and somewhat unwelcome—direction. It has been thirteen years since my father died of prostate cancer, the one kind of cancer you can generally cure. But my father was stubborn and refused to follow the treatment prescribed by his doctor. The cancer metastasized, spread to his spine, liver, and lungs, and left my father in excruciating pain. He nonetheless denied he had cancer (“My sciatica’s acting up again,” I would overhear him telling friends who phoned), rationed his pain medication, and made himself extremely difficult and disagreeable in many ways. I have four siblings but I’m the only one who followed my father to the US, and so it fell to me to manage his care when he became bedridden. Watching Logan caring for Charles made me vividly recall the many contentious moments my father and I shared during his illness. Charles hides his medication and speaks cruelly to Logan—“What a disappointment you are!” —even as Logan does all he can to keep the frail old man safe. There are no “thank yous” between the two men, just endless bickering, but there is also an unspoken understanding. It’s clear that they love one another and right up to the end, Charles tries to guide his pupil/mentee/friend/son. When Charles dies, Logan is left inarticulate with grief; after the unceremonious burial of his beloved father figure, Logan explodes in a fit of rage, haunted by the likelihood that Charles believed he died at Logan’s hands. Though yearning for his own end, Logan cannot leave his daughter and her friends alone to fend for themselves. So he commits himself to a family one last time.

Logan has a hopeful if not happy ending. The next generation of mutants heads north to freedom, their loyalty to one another only strengthened by their encounter with the legendary Wolverine. Logan is finally at peace and for once, the person he loves doesn’t predecease him. When my father died, at first I felt more relief than grief. I was glad that he was no longer suffering, and I was eager to close that painful and exhausting chapter of my life. I have spent the years since his death wishing that I could have shown him more compassion on his most difficult days. I learned a lot about myself as his caregiver, and much of what I learned wasn’t flattering. It’s amazing how a movie about mutants actually reveals so much about human nature. We can be selfish and petty and cruel, and yet we still need one another desperately. Most days I would say that I have given up on the idea of family; I believe in community and do my best to serve mine, but I haven’t started a family of my own and largely accept the estrangement from my siblings that followed my father’s death. As is my custom, I spent Christmas alone, practicing the solitary rituals that bring me joy; without my family around, the holidays are guaranteed to be peaceful.

So why does my heart ache when I watch Logan now? Maybe living in the Trump era has me feeling like Logan—defeated, world-weary, and desperate for a way out. Maybe it’s something more. Moments before his death, Charles says to a cynical Logan, “This is what life looks like—a home, people who love each other, a safe place. You should take a moment and feel it.” Maybe one day I will. Maybe I still have time.

1 Comment

  • Clare
    March 12, 2018 at 5:53 pm

    This is such a great post and I’m glad I finally finished Logan yesterday so I *could* read!

    I found it a really tough, bleak watch and I think the difficult Charles/Logan interactions were the toughest part for me- even more than the violence, which felt pretty par for the course except the fantastic Logan & Laura Versus Everyone Else scenes.

    It felt all too likely – a eugenicist eradicating mutants, the X-Men all gone – but it was heartbreaking. Maybe I’ve read too much of my friends’ Logan/Rogue fic but the idea of not only ‘not happy ever after’ but ‘actively crapsack world’ was really tough.

    That wasn’t what I was going to say when I started writing my comment… sorry! My real point was this: thank you for a great article with much to think about.

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