You can look at LOGAN, a movie about death and the end of eras and believe there isn’t much in it that’s hopeful. I’mma tell you you’re wrong. I walked out of LOGAN hopeful for the future of the western. James Mangold, who also directed 3:10 to Yuma (2007), comes back with another spike to drive in any argument that the western is dead and unfashionable. Not only did he make a fine western, he made it modern, and he made it fucking sick.
Like Sam Peckinpah’s western epic The Wild Bunch (1969), the world of LOGAN is in its death throes. There aren’t many mutants left, and their way of life is over. Even Logan is getting old. We know it in the scars across his flesh, how his claws don’t come out like they used to, and in the beating he takes early on from a gang of criminals that once wouldn’t have fazed him. The heart of conflict in the western genre lies in a struggle between wilderness and civilisation. It can often be understood as a struggle between a man’s chosen way of life and another that is being forced upon him. LOGAN, like The Wild Bunch, cynically embraces this kind of death as inevitable. The story goes that Logan and Professor X are hiding out on the Mexican border (also a lot like The Wild Bunch), where Logan is scrabbling together cash for a boat so he and Professor X can leave the world behind.
That’s the overarching struggle. The more personal, moral struggle that Logan himself faces borrows directly from another great western, Shane (1953). The struggle of being a gun, a man engineered to kill struggling with his brutal nature. It’s obvious enough that Mangold decided to show a clip from Shane and borrowed a few critical lines I won’t spoil, because both Shane and LOGAN are great movies and you should watch them. The lines have a lot to do with painting Logan as the lone gunfighter we always understood him to be, and what that means for his struggle for redemption.
This struggle comes in the form of Laura, a human genetically engineered with Logan’s own particular mutant properties. She and a bunch of other mutant kids escape a facility run by the always excellent Richard E. Grant. She gets separated and comes under Logan’s protection. Soon, an honest-to-god western happens. There’s one cool sequence involving a family of corn farmers. In the future, massive genetically modified corn farms are destroying non-GMO corn farms. They’ve got big robot harvesters, and regular ol Papa Corn Farmer can’t beat that. When we first meet the farmers, their horses are run off the highway by automated shipping containers zipping heedlessly along it. Soon after, the farm’s water supply is sabotaged by men working for Big Corn. There’s just no place for them in the world. It’s got Shane and The Wild Bunch written all over it.
LOGAN‘s version of a western starts out in Texas, winds through open plains, forests and farmland and makes a few stops in arid, cactus-populated desert regions. Almost the entire story plays out in the wilderness as Logan works to keep Laura out of the hands of those that would do harm to her. Mangold uses setting to inform the story, and he does it real fuckin well. There’s one scene where Logan goes full beast mode in a forest and it is brutal. It’s also a pivotal moment, where Logan is fighting for the mutant way of life. It’s glorious, is what it is.
Mangold ends up saying there is still a lot of fight left in the western, even after the land, the people, and the genre are dead and gone and turned into GMO corn. LOGAN says what the best westerns do, that trying to retain a piece of yourself, or your life, or the life you love in the face of massive opposition is what hope is all about.
Yknow, sometimes I think I’ve got a real weakness for lost causes.