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"Logan" challenges us with the lesson of Degas


Charles Xavier was perhaps most happy when he had a mansion full of engaged, happy students, moving every day a further stitch away from their often insanely troubling pasts. But of course, at least in the movies, it wasn't the like of the robust kid Cyclops that garnered his most intense interest (in John Byrne's comic version, it was), but rather the students that never lost the "viper" in them, those who might lash out at him and wound him emotionally, like Mystique and Wolverine. So perhaps there was a sense that the other students were mostly a joyous blur that could take his mind off things -- when he saw them they were a rush of Christmas gifts amply piled up under a Christmas tree -- while the ones who could get under his skin were the students who had his interest and respect because they couldn't be distracted or lead away from recognizing that not all was right with him. In this assessment of the Xavier-school-for-mutants reality, that Charles was mostly interested in them, didn't show that he was most keenly interested in the most worse-off of his students, but that he had an admirable nose for those who saw that he was leading a life which enabled his distractions with mutant children bon-bons, but which when it lapsed, quietened down, would leave him open for more confrontational engagements whereby he himself might be helped out.

In 2027, most other mutants are dead, but given our sense of Xavier as someone who effused at charming, smiling, ever-happy children -- "look at the magic I've made of them! look how grateful they are towards me" -- it would have worked just as well if the movie hadn't chosen a post-apocalyptic type setting and just gone with a normal advancement of our current times, and had the students naturally lose interest him as he did most of them, when they became complicated adults of aging skin and rebuffing, self-assured mien. He is alone now with Logan, and he's not getting away with the self-presentation of someone who's more right and good than everyone else, because Logan has seen him fry the minds of a hundred people and seen his mind lapse away from remembering this horrible reality. Charles challenges him, saying, "you just want me to die," and Logan does him the favour of not doing much to dissuade him of this belief -- he's being cared for because he is loved, but the way he is now is equally as much a burden. Charles is in a sense here exposed as someone who requires people to fit preconceptions of them, built out of a need to supply his own needs and which actually chains them, as even now he is trying to persuade Logan that he is yet still the young man who could never face up to how much good is in him, a man who has never really grown an inch because Charles so enjoys being the empowered advisor who can see the good in one that ostensibly no one else can. He is exposed in a "senility" -- a recurring, self-harmful pattern of addressing reality -- he himself had possessed from his start.

Perhaps out of an unconscious realization that Charles is to be avoided as just a pest almost out of the world, the enemies of the world really aren't that keen to nab him -- "he'll drop off at some point; let's just try our best to pretend it's already happened." Whom they want is an escaped girl who's been enhanced with mutant abilities. Whom they want is a power they can dispatch at their own enemies, as a whirlwind of fantastically quick, metallic fury. Later in the film she is discussed, motioned towards, as someone who, after all, is mostly just a kid. But the way she is introduced into the narrative -- someone who shows no fear and who executes her destruction like a fully seasoned pro -- makes it difficult to understand her as such. Too much prepossession. Too much intelligent discernment. Too much contained desire to just amply express; have her time. She's closer to being throughout the patient T2 advanced robot than ever the outwardly petulant who keeps hidden deep insecurity. In playing with the car lock, activating it and de-activating it constantly, she seems not really the petulant child Logan sees her as, nor the playful child Charles sees her as, but merely the sane young adult providing everyone the much needed feedback -- "awaken out of your preconceptions!" -- that at this point she is beyond being the one who should actually be steering -- like, duh! -- the car. When she does so later in the movie, we know how competent she is going to be at it that you're played only as an obtuse fool if you were surprised how readily she took to it. 

As they flee their opponents, Logan, Charles, and the girl form a kind of family. They find themselves in a long encounter with a real one, a kind-hearted black family that owns a supply of horses and an affluent ranch. What comes to mind is that here, Charles is being provided the home and acceptance he once offered Mystique, and he lapses into sheer gratitude -- a sleeping baby in a warm crib, saying more than anything else, "mama, me so happy!" He draws Logan to stay longer than Logan intended, but the film doesn't quite succeed in making them, this family, seem only those to rally around. Any supporter of Trump could be imagined offering a stranger who helped them a home, a meal, and a good rest, if it also served to establish them in the 1950s' sense as the sort of bedrock suburban family a nation is built on -- if it also secretly flattered them. But if he found his guests were actually big city liberals... And so it goes in this film, when Logan, even after saving his host one more time, is fit only to be dispatched -- shot with a shotgun -- when he is revealed as, like, an actual "stranger," a mutant. Too much cognitive dissonance -- "I knew you were strange but not like, strange strange!" -- for the distraught, overwhelmed host to handle, and you have a sense that something about the whole idea of natural family seems a dumb idea at this caution-worthy time, as if it's smart to infiltrate the family you keep with an overt artificial element to keep it awake to itself as a mental formulation for the "real" lending only to unconscious narrative role-playing and dumbness. "Would you like to stay over? We have bed!" -- Yes, we know what kind of bed you're actually offering us here -- the bed of the unwary: the one you'll ultimately prove victim to.

As legendary, beloved superheroes die in this film, you keep asking yourself, is this for real -- at this point on, are we really going on without them? We do this even though the film does not equivocate in their being absolutely, one hundred percent, dead. I for one was glad in this confidence. It felt as if what we need today is one last drawing in of everything that is wise and developed of the past, and then dispatch them as we set out and inscribe our own future, with them now only active as a presence in our memories. The painter Degas worked this way; he would study intensely his subject, and then never return and do his painting all from memory. This way, the object influences but doesn't take precedence over your own mind -- you don't only represent, only transplant, but express and transform and thereby create something new to the world. It felt like a kind of book-burning, yet one Nazis would never do; for it's not rejecting the past for it being foul but out of realization that some things can no longer be kept in site for us to see if we're equal to founding a society that isn't simply a lesser son of greater sires. It's exhilarating to see this executed, this desire to see who we are once "you're" out of the way, even if it proves to be the case that we're more the effulgence that comes off from any enterprising eager start than any kind of steady way.

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