“So this is what it feels like”

I’ve been struggling for a while to write something about “Logan”. It’s been difficult, because even though the film was great… it was not an easy watch. It’s bleak, it’s oppressive, it’s sad. And it’s beautiful, and impactful. This film didn’t just resonate with me, it didn’t just have an impact. It broke me.

It starts with that line from Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” that plays on one of the trailers…

“I hurt myself today, to see if I still feel.”

That lyric aptly describes my experience seeing “Logan” in cinemas. Going in the second time (because once was not enough for me), I knew I was willingly hurting myself to take it all in. And it was worth it. It hurt just as much at the second viewing, and it was even better. Even the first time around, I had an idea of what was going to happen because I’d had the story spoiled. It didn’t bother me, and it didn’t diminish the effect of those specific moments.

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And speaking of spoilers, there will be many in this post. If you haven’t seen it already, and if you don’t want to know ahead like I did, turn away now. But if you want to know what you’re walking into, or if you want to commiserate with me, pour yourself a cup of comfort liquid and let’s carry on. Salud!

As I said, I wasn’t completely unaware of what was about to happen on the big screen in front of me. I just desperately wanted it to be good. Going back to the Johnny Cash trailer – that had me more worried than anything. I’d been looking forward to this film for a long time. I knew it would be Hugh Jackman’s last as the Wolverine, and like many, I greatly admire Jackman’s representation of the character. He brought that feeling that’s hard to adequately portray in a blockbuster character, especially a comic book-inspired one. Jackman consistently delivered a great performance as Logan, so I desperately hoped this one would be good too.

And damn, bub, was it good! In fact, it wasn’t just good… When I managed to clear through the mists of “what the hell did I just watch?” and the confused feelings, I realised that this was the best “comic book” film  since “The Dark Knight”, and all in all, one of the heaviest, deepest, most emotionally engaging films I’ve seen in a very long time.

Logan / Wolverine has been one of my favourite comic book characters since I was a kid. Like many people of my generation, I was introduced to the X-Men through the animated series (the one with the fantastic intro song, you know the one). Wolverine was my favourite character in that. Later in 2003, thanks to the underrated X-Men: Evolution, I had another character that I loved: X-23.

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Of course, Logan as a character, when written poorly, can fall into all the tropes of toxic masculinity and hyper-machismo. When written well, you get a character who has to deal with those issues. The graphic novel that ostensibly inspired this film, “Old Man Logan” is one of those gems where you get a chance to relate to him as a person. And you might think, how am I supposed to relate to a 300-year old, super-healing, super-strong dude-bro with metal claws coming out of his hands?

“Logan” answered that question expertly.

It should be made clear that this isn’t a superhero movie. It isn’t a comic book movie. It’s a film about loss. It’s a story about dealing with pain, both physical and mental. And in a strange kind of way, it’s about family as well.

The film tugs on your heart strings early on with Patrick Stewart’s unmatched performance as Charles Xavier. He’s an old, dying man, suffering from some form of degenerative brain disease. This is where the film delivers. And it delivers like a punch in the gut. Seeing the legendary thespian portray a beloved character in such a vulnerable state – it isn’t just heart-breaking, it’s devastating. And Hugh Jackman matches Sir Patrick’s performance admirably, and delivers a vulnerable, aging Logan that is engaging at a viscerally emotional level. We see the old Logan – tired, alcoholic, his healing isn’t what it used to be, his eyesight is failing him – and he has to take care of the withering Xavier – who, when he has an “episode” could very well kill Logan and everyone else in the vicinity. In fact, it’s hinted that he has had one such episode where he did kill several people – perhaps most of the original X-Men. It’s in this scene that Patrick Stewart delivers one of the most memorable lines of the film. One that clearly shows how much the writers took care in their portrayal of the characters, and shows a deep understanding of the issues they had decided to tackle. When told by Logan that he can’t even remember him anymore – something which would already resonate with anyone who may have had a family member who suffered from such a disease – Charles replies that “I always know who you are. It’s just sometimes I don’t recognise you.”

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I’ve seen the film three times now, and that line always gets me.

Both characters have to deal with trauma. And we get to see it through Logan’s eyes. Having taken away his healing factor, he becomes vulnerable. Not just physically, but emotionally as well. At first, we see him deal with that in true Wolverine fashion – drugs, alcohol and anger. That all changes when he finds out that he has a daughter: Laura, or X-23. And I thought back to the Johnny Cash song in the trailer and the lyrics above “I focus on the pain, the only thing that’s real.” Laura, like the other two main characters of this story, is dealing with pain. And there’s a small scene that shows that so well and fits those lyrics perfectly. A brief cut of her in the hospital that “created” her; we see young Laura slashing her arms with her metal claws to watch it heal before her eyes. Those who’ve read “Innocence Lost” will recognise this scene.

I’d like to take a moment to point out that his is Dafne Keen’s first role in a film, and apparently her second ever role on TV or cinema, and she completely steals the show. For a character who doesn’t speak for the vast majority of her screen time, she deftly conveys whatever emotion her character is feeling, and she manages to sink her claws (pun intended) into your attention and aggressively hold onto it for the rest of the film. And the trio of Jackman, Stewart and Keen work so well on screen, you completely believe they’re a family. A broken, hurt, and dysfunctional family that’s trying to find sense in a world that’s completely devoid of it.

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“Logan” shines in its portrayal of the titular character as an inept father figure and an ill-prepared care-taker to his mentor. Logan is out of his depth throughout the whole film and we see him struggle. It comes across expertly in his scenes with Laura. Like the one in the store where in the space of a few seconds he tries to tell her what’s right and what’s wrong – then completely managing to ignore his own code and steals some cigars – because he’s The Wolverine, folks! The relationship between him and Xavier is tragically funny and heart-wrenching. And we see just how unprepared he was for all this in the scene where he buries Xavier.

I can’t even speak of the scene leading up to this. When Logan says “it wasn’t me”, I was already shattered. I knew beforehand that Xavier was going to die in this film, and I was as unprepared for it as Logan himself was. Then when he buries his long-time friend and mentor, who died thinking not of his amazing life or the incredible trauma he’s endured, but of the yacht they were going to buy… the only words the physically and emotionally drained Logan can bring himself to say at the unmarked grave are “Well… It’s got water.”, referring to the pond he was buried next to. Just to emphasise the fact that instead of the ocean where he and Xavier were going to escape, his only remaining friend, his mentor and protector… gets buried next to a pond in the middle of nowhere. He has a moment where it seems he’s about to show how vulnerable he is, but instead rushes to his car and when it fails to start, takes all his anger out on it. He’s too powerless to control himself, and he can’t even damage the car all that much. We see the Wolverine broken. And we see him deal with pain and loss in the only way he’s ever know… anger and violence.

Meanwhile, Laura is watching on, unsure what to make of all this. And it was that little moment… where she reaches out to grab his hand, and then he flies into his hopeless rage. The one little moment showed how important a father figure can be, and how much we feel its absence.

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When I left the cinema, I described the film as relentlessly bleak. Now that I’ve had the time to process it better, I’d say it was viscerally emotional. Some would say that the excessive violence (and it is excessive at times) undermines this aspect of it, but it could be argued that it serves to set the tone. This world that Logan lives in is violent, it is bleak and ruled by a pervading hopelessness.

It all comes to a head in the climax of the film, where Logan fights his younger, more primal self in the form of another clone. Ultimately, it’s not him, but his daughter Laura that defeats Logan’s “animal” self. And with his dying breath he tells Laura, who had just accepted him as a father and now lost him: “Don’t be what they made you.” As his eyes close, he utters the words “So this is what it feels like”.

I’ll be honest, I’m still not sure what he meant. What dying feels like? Probably, but who knows? What I do know is that, as someone who had been completely numbed by films and was losing hope in the medium, when the credits roll and Johnny Cash plays again, I remembered that films can engage you at an emotional level, that they can tell a story about loss and pain, and I thought to myself…

“So this is what it feels like.”