The theatrical cut of Logan was easily in the top five best super hero/comic book films. Right up there with The Dark Knight, Captain America: Winter Soldier/Civil War, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, & The Incredibles. But last week my preordered Logan Blu Ray arrived in the mail and I saw 4 beautiful letters in the corner: N O I R. The French word for black. That’s right the black and white version of Logan shipped with the initial Blu ray. And this version may actually be the greatest film in the superhero movie genre.
Film Noir is one of my favorite film things. I don’t call it a genre because properly understood it is a mood. A historical mood that existed from 1942-1958. So it begins right after The Maltese Falcon and it ends with A Touch of Evil. Anything after 58 is properly understood as Noir derivative. From Chinatown to Blade Runner to LA Confidential to most of Christopher Nolan’s films. But ultimately that’s just a technicality. Film Noir is really anything that brings the dark depths of the soul of man to the silver screen. That definition is too broad to be studied academically, but it is the essential defining factor of Film Noir.
Even the historical mood itself is basically about the heart of darkness. It isn’t merely about detectives and the seedy side of LA or black and white film. Vertigo is one of the great classic noirs and it takes place in San Francisco with vibrant technicolor. Jimmy Stewart does play a detective but not a typical one. And possibly the greatest of the Bogey Noirs is In a Lonely Place where a screen writer with anger problems self destructs. It’s all highly versatile. But the unifying factor is always Darkness. Social, emotional, and human darkness.
Wolverine aka James Howlett aka Logan has always been shrouded in that sort of darkness. This makes him perfect for a film Noir film or it’s kissing cousin: the psychological western. In theaters Logan was undoubtedly the later. If you couldn’t tell from simply watching the film the multiple references to Shane make it pretty clear that this is a western of some sort. Shane usually isn’t lumped in with the psychological westerns since it’s a relatively straight forward story of good and evil. But the way it’s used in Logan reveals hidden depths to Shane, and now I think it may belong alongside High Noon, The Gunfighter, and The Naked Spur. Logan certainly belongs up there with those films as well. From the new retro production credits (including a Cinema Scope panel!) to Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around this film feels like a classic western, despite its dystopic sci fi setting.
But Logan Noir takes what was a great psyche action western and shoots it into the stratosphere. Black and white highlights things in a different way. The shadows make you see what’s really there by eliminating the colors. Peter Bogdanovich does a segment on the Criterion collection of The Third Man (one of the greatest classic noirs) where he reminisces about Orson Welles. According to Bogdanovich Welles used to say that black and white was the actors’ medium. Welles said “I defy you to find me a great performance in color. It can’t be done.” That seems obviously false from a contemporary perspective because we’ve had many more decades with color films than Welles, but the simple truth is that color is less precise than black and white. Black and white shows you only what is actually there via the contrasts. Light can be deceiving, the shadows can show us the truth. As Callaban repeats later in the film: “Beware the light.”
But the most moving aspect of the film is made more profound in the Noir version. That is Wolverine’s role as a Christ figure. All heroes who are defined by their suffering will be forever connected to Yeshua. And wolverine is a sufferer. Not out of angst or choice. His “immortality” is what causes his suffering, his other worldliness makes him into a monster. This is similar to Yeshua.
Additionally Logan is leading Laura to a new Eden. And the truth and location of that Eden is based in a “book.” But more than that are the words from Shane’s good bye monologue spoken by Laura at Wolverine’s brief funeral:
“A man has to be what he is, Joey. Can’t break the mold. There’s no living with the killing. There’s no going back. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. A brand that sticks. Now you run on home to your mother… you tell her everything’s alright. There are no more guns in the valley.”
Here we see an eschatological vision of the peaceful frontier made possible by one branded with violence. Shane takes the sin of the community onto himself by defeating Jack Palance’s villain but in return the hero becomes tainted. The scapegoat must be driven from the community. This is the same path Batman takes when he becomes The Dark Knight by receiving Harvey Dent’s sins, and just like Shane there is a child watching him leave who cannot understand why the innocent man is being punished.
As Joey calls after Shane so Gordon’s son vindicates the Dark Knight by saying: “But he didn’t do anything wrong.” And Laura applies all this to her father. He was a man stained with sin, destined for violence. But he did not scorn this shame and accepted it for the sake of others.
Alfred actually understands that this is the strength of Batman. About half way through TDK he advises Bruce not to turn himself into the authorities:
“Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.”
Batman doesn’t need society’s permission, because he never asked society for their permission. The same goes for Shane and Logan.
For those of you who do not have it burned into your psyche here’s the end of TDK:
And ultimately all three follow the same path:
1. the confrontation of evil
2. The defeat of evil by imputation (when I preached in Nepal & India I called this Karma eating, Jesus eats our Karma) from the community to the hero
3. The falling of the hero into lostness, for Shane the Wilderness, Batman goes into the underworld (the Joker’s sLaughter zone) and ascends into blinding light, and Logan dies
In his death Logan is even hung upon a tree taking the biblical curse of Deuteronomy 21 fully upon himself. This seems like a bit of a stretch at first since it’s actually the base of the tree, and he isn’t actually “hung” upon it. My response to this is that I am not interpreting the film objectively but rather finding symbolic significance. But at the same time I feel like there are several elements that add credence to the possibility that the filmmaker’s intended to evoke Jesus.
The first one is that Logan has to be cut down. That makes him functionally hung upon the stump, similar to Odin’s hanging upon Yggdrasil by being impaled with his spear. The crucifixion and Odin’s “riding the gallows” are inextricably linked in the west, referencing one is like referencing the other. But what may be more important is that his right side was pierced beneath the ribs. It’s not as if we know exactly where Jesus’ fifth wound occurred but in the artistic tradition it’s basically universally on the right side. And for “symbology” purposes that is more important. That seems intentional.
And then there is his burial. He is covered with stones with a small wooden cross at the head. The stones evoke The Stone, the one covering the rich man’s tomb that Yeshua was laid to rest in. And obviously the cross itself. But then after Laura’s speech they all walk away and Laura stops. I’ll never forget how I felt at this moment the first time I watched this. Because I knew exactly what she was going to do and I started to sob because I was so moved by my connection to this film. Laura takes the cross and turns it on it’s side making it an X! And in my ecstatic sobbing I thought very clearly: “I could let that piss me off because I could take that to be anti Christian but even if they meant it to be anti-Christian they accidentally may have made it more Christian!” The reason being that in Greek the word for Mesiach (Messiah) starts with an X! The Chi Rho (XR) is one of the most distinctive Christian symbols. In Greek Christ is spelled Xristos because the letter Chi (X) makes a Ch sound. But also by changing it from a cross to an X Laura identifies Logan with his people the mutants, the X-Men. This is the obvious reason she does it of course. But the mutants have always been outcasts and freaks, so by re identifying him with the losers in society she identifies him with Yeshua. Because he was a loser! He was poor and homeless. Unmarried and childless. And finally he was lynched.
And the stark beautiful black and white just makes it all that much clearer.
Hugh Jackman’s tall sexy version of Wolverine has been beautifully laid to rest after 17 years. Sleep peacefully for one day soon The Man Comes Around.