In his dialogue with the historian Elisabeth Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow..., Jacques Derrida argues that all theory owes a “debt” to “a performative power structured by fiction, by a figural invention.” Theory, law, ethics, politics—these are not natural systems, but artefacts, artifices, works of art. Art exists in excess of nature, which means that, in the words of another philosopher, Hans-Georg Gadamer, art causes an increase of being in the world. Art adds to nature. Theory, law, ethics, politics—these cannot be reduced to natural systems, but emerge from human invention, are generated and grow, are performed, practiced, and represented by a myriad of actors in a multiplicity of contexts. This should not be taken to mean that fictions and fantasies and figures and fables are unreal, however, but that these arts of invention are the very roots of the social apparatuses and forces and norms that give shape to our everyday lives.
I begin with this theoretical excursus so as to lay the groundwork for a brief discussion of a film I consider to be remarkable, a film that does the hard work of art within the context of a genre that has largely given itself up to the worst of Hollywood. That film is Logan.
The latest movie in the X-Men franchise, and the final Wolverine movie to feature Hugh Jackman in the title role, Logan has the unfortunate task of following last year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, a bombastic slog of a movie. Logan, however, is not nearly so poor an offering. Visceral, intimate, brutal, touching, Logan tears across the screen, its momentum palpable, its stakes clear. Its quiet moments provide the briefest of respites, a stillness, a breath, to touch down, to connect, to feel and to hold, before hurtling on again. At two hours seventeen minutes long, Logan doesn’t lag or bore. Each beat feels right, each cut significant. In this, the “figural” capacity of Logan as “invention,” as art-work, as an aesthetic labor, does something fresh and vital and raw, something with actual bearing on the world we inhabit.
Though Logan is an R-rated action movie, its violence is not mere spectacle. The figuring of trauma and crisis produces a break, a rupture, which opens up the space of the film to a story that I did not expect—a story of family. Two generations of adoptive parents—Logan, adopted by Charles Xavier (played with endearing grit by Patrick Stewart), and Laura (the ferocious Dafne Keen), adopted by Logan—inhabit the nexus of action: three mutants, three outcasts, three fugitives, together on the road to refuge. Family is not merely given, but chosen and performed; Logan, in its fictive power, elaborates a vision of what such a reality-effecting performance might look like. In the midst of the blood and the snarls, Logan asks us what it means to care, and to be cared for, to sacrifice, and to be sacrificed for, to love, and to be loved. Logan forces three dysfunctional and destructive individuals to enter into relation with, and radical dependence upon, each other, to embrace the necessity of need, to be caught up in the contingency of one another’s lives. Such an experience cannot be taught, cannot be learned; it must be encountered, and there, in the fictive crucible of film, we encounter it too.
Logan is a movie that demands not simply to be watched but to be felt, a fiction that requires its viewers to open themselves to the struggle and the pain and the loss of its misfit family, to hear the call of the other in her need and to respond in kind, to choose to dwell in the space of relation and care, to perform the tender and heartbreaking art of love.