Fr. David Stavarz | 31 March 2017 | This article first appeared at wordonfire.org
Some critics believe that one reason Logan, the latest instalment of the beastly X-Men mutant hero, Wolverine, did so well in the box office was the film’s grittier, bloodier, R-rated flavour.
Given the phenomenal performances from both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, and with this movie being their last testaments to the Wolverine story, I would say that it’s certainly the best movie of the series. However, while Logan is a captivating Hollywood symphony of violent entertainment, I think the movie’s real attraction and success come from it’s deeper message on the necessity of fatherhood.
At the beginning of the film, we find a beaten, conflicted, mentally and physically exhausted Logan, situated somewhere along the Mexican border in the year 2029. At this point, Wolverine is riding through life as a limo driver, while taking care of an aged Professor X, who needs medication to prevent the mental lapses and seizures from a degenerative brain disease. Prof. X has been a father to Logan over the years so he sacrifices to take care of the Professor.
Logan, as he responds to a request for his Uber-inspired, futuristic chauffeur service, comes into contact with Laura, an 11 year old girl who, as he later finds out, is his own daughter. Laura is a product of the Transigen Corporation’s laboratory grown and tested mutant program. After their forced introduction, Logan, Laura, and Prof. X find themselves running from a Transigen cyborg named Pierce to a place called Eden, an alleged place of sanctuary for mutants who escaped the laboratory. Logan, at the pleading of Prof. X, begrudgingly leads Laura to this place of sanctuary so she could meet up with her mutant friends who also escaped.
Throughout the movie, we see Logan in a continual struggle – physically and psychologically. It’s a struggle he undoubtedly endured most of his life. Despite his beastly appearance and demeanour, Logan is a man who, like all men, yearns and struggles in life to find true identity, purpose, and intimacy. He hates the man he has been and, deep down, wants to be someone better.
Over the years, Logan has learned to look out only for himself and tends to reject any close relationships, because of his relationship with violence and brutality. Yet, we find Logan on a journey where he has to take care of and protect an 11 year old girl and a 95 year old man. In an interview asking about a new side of Wolverine the audience would see in the film, director James Mangold explained that, “…the goal was to go intimate with Logan… to try and get at the very things that scare him most…which aren’t villains, the end of the world, or his own life, but intimacy, love, [and] connection with others.”
I do find it interesting that when movies with massive scale and impressive CGI start to bore us, stories that display the depth of humanity never cease to grasp our attention and leave a lasting impression. I would argue – which I think is the greatest truth the films brings out on multiple levels – that Logan is a story of how an enhanced, Adamantium-filled, beastly mutant faces and conquers his fears of intimacy and love, by finding his purpose in fatherhood.
A crucial series of scenes in the movie come when Logan, Laura, and Prof. X encounter a Christian family. (The movie, despite it’s darker, violent tone, really has a considerable amount of strongly positive Christian imagery.) When the family’s horse carrier breaks open on the highway due to the sudden motion of an automated semi-truck which pushes both their vehicles off the road, the three unlikely travellers end up helping the family to corral their horses. Logan wanted to leave the family to deal with the situation saying, “Someone else will come along.” Prof. X retorted, “Someone else has come along.” He must have reading Luke 10:25-37 in the car beforehand.
Logan, Laura, and Prof. X end up joining the family at their home for dinner as an appreciative gesture. That night as Logan tucked Prof. X into bed, he told Logan, “This is what life looks like; people who love each other, a home. You should take a moment… feel it. You still have time.” This line reminds me of Chesterton’s view of the necessity of the “common man, with his common family, with his common house” kind of reality. The simple and loving Christian family truly is the foundation of a healthy society. Prof. X has come to know this truth in his heart and, because he is a father to Logan, knows that it’s this truth that will satisfy Logan’s aching heart.
After this moment, we particularly see Logan shedding the skin of the man he used to be as he realises the fatherhood he knows he is called to live out. At first, it appears that Logan was taking Laura to Eden because of a $50,000 compensation for getting her there. But as it plays out, we see Logan eventually protect and care for Laura for more than just the financial compensation.
Logan’s journey to true fatherhood comes to a climax when he sacrifices his own life to protect Laura and her friends from the head Transigen doctor, Dr. Rice, who wants to kill them off. In an emotional moment while Logan dies from being thrown onto and pierced on a tree root by X-24, a Wolverine look-alike mutant weapon released by Pierce. (Consider, here, the tree of sacrifice that is the symbol for Christianity.) Dying, in his last moments, he whispers to Laura, “So this is what it feels like…” Logan, for the first time, after sacrificing his own life for his daughter, experienced human love and intimacy. He experienced what he feared. He experienced what it meant to be a father.
Masculinity is essentially and inherently tied to fatherhood. Fatherhood is not an option for a man. It is a requirement. Fatherhood is the purpose for which God created man. And what do I mean by fatherhood?
Certainly, raising children is important to fatherhood, yet it is not absolutely essential to having a fatherly heart and living as a father. Not all men have biological children. Priests, religious, and consecrated single men don’t have physical children. In truth, the call to sacrifice and unselfish love is the foundation of fatherhood. Unselfish, sacrificial love is what makes a man a true father, whether their children are physical or spiritual. This is what Christ showed us all on the cross, as he gave his own life for his salvation of God’s own children.
It was necessary for Logan to know and experience fatherhood on his journey to fulfilment and purpose. He came to know this as he sacrificed his life for Laura and in his relationship with Prof. X. In that relationship, Logan also learned how to be loved and guided by a father as he helped to physically take care of that fatherly figure. Early on in the movie, when Logan was being snappy with Prof. X after one of his mental seizures, the Professor said, “I always know who you are, it’s just sometimes I don’t recognise you.” True fathers recognise their children no matter how confused they or their children become. The connection between father – and for that reason mother – and child is unlike any other force in the world.
Today, we live in an age of fatherlessness. Society often tells men – boys really – to live for themselves and their various own desires – partying as much as possible, sleeping around with the most attractive women possible, and making as much money as possible. Said another way: Just live as a savage, self-serving beast. Yet, we see that that way of living is getting men nowhere. Divorce rates are through the roof, countless children have no fathers or, at very least, a confused sense of fatherhood, and the pornography industry and hook-up culture are acceptable alternatives to family life. Men are allowed to act like beasts.
In years to come, the modern world will definitely feel major ripples in its societal structures because of fatherlessness and, furthermore, its promotion and glorification of fatherlessness. Scientific studies can even support this fact.
But the reality is that when masculinity is detached from fatherhood, men will continue to remain lost, weak, and unfulfilled. A life of loving, fatherly sacrifice will satiate the desire for purpose over any other way of life. Furthermore, without fatherhood – which leads to and grounds the family – our society will fall apart.