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A Mutant Holocaust In 'Logan'

Patrick Stewart, left, Dafne Keen and Hugh Jackman attend a screening of <em>Logan</em> on Feb. 24 in New York.
Charles Sykes
Patrick Stewart, left, Dafne Keen and Hugh Jackman attend a screening of Logan on Feb. 24 in New York.

(Spoiler Alert: If you haven't watched the movie Logan and are planning to, you may want to read this essay only after you do.)

In generic heroic sagas, the hero leaves home to face numerous tribulations in a pilgrimage of the self.

The obstacles along the way are tests of the hero's strength, molding his/her character through pain and suffering. Glory, when achieved, is bittersweet, as it comes heavy with loss, usually of loved ones, family or companions. In tragic sagas, the hero pays with his/her life in the end so that others may be free.

The narrative line of the new blockbuster movie Logan, starring Hugh Jackman with story and direction by James Mangold, follows this structure to the core. It's a classic tragedy on steroids, with Tarantino-like graphic violence, the kind we don't usually associate with Marvel characters. It's the end of the X-Men as we know and love them. A dark, oppressive end, exploring, once again, the worse of humanity.

It brings to the fore the theme I explored in this space a few weeks back, the moral choices of those in power as they apply scientific knowledge. In the case of Logan, it's an evil corporation, no doubt a defense contractor, attempting to design the ultimate killing machine, mutant soldiers without the ability for empathy. The horror is that the corporation does this by genetically inserting mutant genes into the human genome, creating a gang of children they try to mold into heartless assassins, a sort of Neverland meets H.G. Wells Dr. Moreau.

The movie is so utterly sad it's painful to watch. Logan, the conflicted and beloved Wolverine, is old and broken, alone, drowning his sorrows in alcohol, driving a limo to survive in a harsh 2029 America. His sole job is to care for a nonagenarian half-demented Professor X, who suffers from seizures that threaten anyone near him. A "ticking time-bomb," "a weapon of mass destruction," is how his brain is now described. But good Professor X is still in there, and he feels the presence of a new mutant, the first in 25 years. X-Men character Magneto's worse fears are realized: Humans obliterated the mutants, the Final Solution working as well as it could. No redemption in this story, no Allies to defeat the evil dictators. Only death and loss to an entire kind.

Fortunately, the genetically-modified transhuman children — the only redeeming aspect of the movie — survived and escaped their torturing captors. One of them, Laura (played with beautiful intensity by Dafne Keen), carries Logan's genes and powers of regeneration. She even has his claws and metal core, although we don't quite know how this inner armor grows with her. But these are details. Much against his will, Logan is roped into rescuing his engineered daughter and taking her to Eden, the Neverland of mutant children, a meeting point near the Canadian border.

Mirroring the dark days we are experiencing in America, the mutant children must leave the country to become immigrants in search of a society that will embrace them.

Faithful to the tragic storyline, the heroes all perish. In the darkest scene of the movie, Laura must bury her own father, after a brief moment of much-needed tenderness as Logan finally understands what loving someone means. The other mutant children walk away, and Laura is alone by Logan's burial place. She picks up the cross that marks his grave and turns it sideways, making it into an X. The saga ends for our beloved X-Men. But the children do cross the border — and mutants survive, hopefully to thrive again.

As in real life, the Final Solution will never work.

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Marcelo Gleiser is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. He is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College.

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