Director James Mangold’s Logan is rightly celebrated for bringing the superhero genre down to earth in the best possible way; the film is grounded in situations and characters – and, yes, acts of violence – that feel achingly real. Throughout, Mangold makes space for intimate moments that resonate, such as when Logan swigs alcohol alone while bandaging a hand that should have already healed, or an aged Charles Xavier tends a makeshift garden, or Logan’s daughter Laura stares wide-eyed out of a car window at a glittering city, the likes of which she’s never seen before. Indeed, one of the film’s most poignant scenes is both intimate and relatively quiet, though it begins with Logan snarling and growling himself awake from a nightmare.
The scene is of course a callback to other X-Men and Wolverine films. Throughout his run on the big screen Logan has been virtually immortal and indestructible, but also defined by psychological trauma, haunted by violent memories in his dreams. In X-Men, he has scarcely arrived at Professor Xavier’s mansion when he accidently stabs a fellow mutant while in the throes of a nightmare, and in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, his girlfriend is used to him clawing their bedding when he dreams of his brutal past. Mangold’s 2013 film The Wolverine even opens with a nightmare-within-a-nightmare. But Logan takes a particularly reflective approach to its eponymous character’s nightmares, giving him a chance to talk about their cause with Laura, who shares his capacity for violence.
“Do you have nightmares?” Logan asks Laura upon waking. His voice sounds ragged and he’s never looked this worn; his eyes are heavily lidded and he can barely sit up. Logan is suffering from adamantium poisoning: his unbreakable metal-coated bones and the blades in his hands – the things that have made him so deadly for so long – are now destroying him from within, and the metaphor for the corrosive effects of a lifetime of violence is both apt and gracefully underplayed. Logan’s admission that in his nightmares, he is hurting people, rather than being hurt, reinforces the theme of how violence can damage those who commit it, and thus it’s fitting that this is also the scene where Logan speaks frankly to Laura about his impulse to self-destruct.
Yet while the film is very much about the demons of Logan’s past, it’s also about his relationship with his daughter, and his exchange with Laura in this scene holds remarkable significance for both characters. “I’ve hurt people too,” she reminds him, later noting, “They were bad people.” Logan’s reply is, “All the same,” a terse but powerful rejoinder from a man who speaks from experience. In the film’s final scene, Laura quotes the movie Shane, saying, “There’s no living with the killing.” And while she’s repeating words that she heard on TV, she’s also voicing something she learned from her father; something they discussed once in the dark of night, after he woke from troubled dreams.