Through its apocalyptic ascetic, Johnny Cash’s themes of heroic mythmaking interlock with Logan’s journey as a character. In one scene, Logan thumbs through an X-Men comic he found in Laura’s backpack. “Maybe a quarter of it happened,” he comments. “And not like this…This is ice cream for bed-wetters.” In Logan, the innocent suffer, and good doesn’t always triumph in the way most summer blockbusters seem to think.
If many comic-book heroes either experience some form of hazy immortality or only die to return in the next movie, Logan ratchets up the tension by fully envisioning its characters’ physical and moral humanity. Xavier, suffering from either a brain tumor or Alzheimer’s, sees his once celebrated mind become a weapon of mass destruction. Frequently disoriented by his condition, Xavier’s words often become a sword to Logan—a pain those who’ve walked with a loved one through a degenerative illness know all too well.
Similarly, the metal exoskeleton bonded to Wolverine’s bones—the same adamantium that once brought him eternal life—now poisons his regenerative abilities. During the last half of the film, Logan takes a nap in nearly every scene (nearly to the story’s fault). In Christian thought, rest is a sign of trust in God’s sovereignty, and Logan’s shuteye consistently feels like a loss in his once supposed self-lordship. When we do eventually watch Jackman become the fully realized, animalistic Wolverine (in what he says is his last time to play the part), the moments of awe, terror, and ferocity soon fade, and he’s back to limping again.
With the Big Sleep drawing near, both Logan and Xavier must also reckon with their past sins—including those done for the ultimate good. After dinner with a modest Christian family, Xavier confesses that the tranquility and peace of the evening is the best he’s experienced in years. As he lays in a bed next to a plump Bible, he cries, admitting, “I don’t deserve it.” For all the virtue he brought to the world, the mistakes of his past and the torment of his present reveal a man who needs something this world can only give in spurts.
Even the film’s R-rating, which it earns in spades, works to develop Wolverine’s disheveled moral state. Logan is a hero when we can’t see the gore fling from his claws (as in his other, tamer, films), but is he still a hero when we watch these same claws pierce a man’s skull? When Laura excuses her violence by claiming those she hurt were bad people, Logan’s response captures his need for absolution: “All the same.”
In this way, Logan authentically communicates the willful ignorance of mortality that the 17th-century mathematician and Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal once described. Referring to the rich and powerful of his day—those who used their wealth as a distraction from the inevitable—Pascal wrote, “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and misery, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.”
Like the characters in Logan, we, as Pascal alludes to, may believe in death’s ticking clock, but either can’t envision it or don’t give it any long thoughts. We enjoy the company of others, sometimes finding meaning and purpose in family and friends (like, say, the X-Men). Perhaps we even numb our minds with films of comic, immortal gods.