In the claws of catharsis…
When I was studying Theater in my college years (shut up, it’s totally a thing), one of the texts that was part of the curriculum was Aristotle’s Poetics, widely regarded as one of the first known formal studies of drama and dramatic structure. Interestingly enough, when I went to look it up for purposes of this blog I discovered that there’s some controversy I never knew about regarding the exact concept I wanted to reference, that of catharsis. Did Aristotle actually write about it? What did he truly mean by it?
Well dammit this was not supposed to be a blog about that, so I’m going with the way I learned it; in layman’s terms, catharsis is the power of tragic fiction to put the audience through a wringer, leaving them feeling emotionally and even physically drained at the end but somehow richer for the experience.
Or in terms of this article, I can just define catharsis as:
A couple weeks ago I may have had to stretch to fit Subnautica into the scope of this blog, but Logan needs no such finagling. This movie is unapologetically, unequivocally an apocalyptic Western in the guise of a superhero film. Shane (which has its own entry in my archives) is blatantly referenced and quoted, but the ashen grit of Unforgiven is here as well, as the aged warrior faces his mortality and the thought that he might well be the best there is at what he does — but if that happens to be killing folks, what kind of legacy does he leave behind?
Logan differs from these films in literally offering its title character a legacy opportunity in the form of a young girl named Laura, who (I suppose spoilers) has a crucial difference from the young boy in Shane or the Schofield Kid… she’s already a killer, and quite a competent one. The only thing that remains to be molded, perhaps, is what sort of killer she’s going to be. Throw in a dangerously senile (but occasionally still all-too-lucid) father/grandfather figure in the form of a Professor X suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and the ensuing journey across a dystopian near future America takes on meaning at once epic and personal, in the best mold of the Greek tragedies Aristotle might have experienced.
But it’s undeniably got that Western feel, which makes the taciturn silence of Laura for much of the film not feel out of place. Actress Dafne Keen has a magnetism to her that eludes many adult actors, able to tell stories with her eyes alone, and Logan is a movie that can sustain those moments of quietude punctuated by howling, bloody action.
Logan, above all else, is catharsis. It is not, I think, relentlessly dark, but any hopeful message at the end is up to intepretation. The poster above should serve as all the warning needed — not only is this the sunset for our hero, but he has turned away from it — as if rejecting even the notion that he should be allowed the traditional ride into its embrace.
It’s not a movie where you applaud when the credits roll — but if your experience is anything like mine, you’ll still feel like you got your money’s worth.