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Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Retro Nostalgia: Logan's Run (1976) and the Infantilization of Humanity

(Note:  There are a few spoilers below. If you have not seen Logan's Run and want to, I recommend watching it before you read this post.  I'm not ruining the entire movie or anything; I just know that I would prefer a completely untainted first viewing.  If you don't care about a few spoilers, then read on.

Note 2:  This is a little late.  It should have appeared yesterday.  I hope you'll forgive me, considering that I didn't have the film selected until late Sunday evening.)

Many of you already know that I am currently teaching an American dystopia class.  One of the novels I had considered teaching was William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson's Logan's Run, which was later turned into a 1976 film (discussed here) and a 1977 TV series (which I have never seen).  There are a few more novels/stories in the series/universe and a new film adaptation is currently in the works.  As a piece of dystopia, the film plays on a number of the social concerns of the 1960s and the 1970s, among them the population boom scare fed by Paul R. Ehrlich
(founder of the Zero Population Growth movement, now called Population Connection), which inspired Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room!, and the "social revolution" of the period (particularly among the younger generations).  Logan's Run, thus, imagines a future in which the outside world has collapsed -- for reasons we are never told, because nobody is alive to remember it -- resulting in a self-contained, futuristic community where life is artificially ended at age 30 and, so we're told, the entire system runs on a 1-to-1 cyclical rebirth process.  There is no population growth because growth would crash the system, and the population is perpetually kept in the "dark" about the inner workings of Carrousel (the communal celebration of disintegration/termination that occurs whenever a group reaches maturity -- 30).  It's that darkness that I want to talk about here.
Only those who run really fast get away long enough to run more.
Part of what makes Logan's Run such a terrifying future -- despite it's somewhat dated, uber-70s presentation -- is how it explores what absolute equilibrium produces in a culture (albeit, a largely Western, white culture, if this film is any indication).  Looking back through much of my reading, I can draw comparisons to William Golding's Lord of the Flies or even Jack London's The Iron Heel, each works which imagine dystopian spaces wherein humanity's violent inner nature is exposed.  Much like Lord of the Flies, the future of Logan's Run is one in which some children are made to fend for themselves (albeit, in an isolated sense), only Golding's novel never imagines what the children on the island will look like in 20 years -- Logan's Run does.  So while the children in the Cathedral -- where the "feral ones" go -- may appear savage and tribal,* we are reminded that the "adults" (those that reach 15 -- a.k.a. middle age) will be cast out of such societies to live among the rest of humanity.  Where this might seem barbaric to a viewer, it is important to note that we learn almost nothing about how children are raised in the dominant culture, wherein our heroes spend their days drinking, having sex, and generally "enjoying" their lives (presumably toddlers are not engaging in such activities too).  What we do know is that those barbaric, tribal children in Cathedral are no less barbaric and tribal than the people they isolate themselves from by electing to live only among people their age.
Jessica is the only main character who thinks the world is, well,
wrong, but because it's the 1970s, and the filmmakers decided
not to take that whole "2nd Wave Feminism" thing seriously, she
basically spends the whole movie acting like a child^2.
In other words:  the narrative wants us to imagine, if only for a moment, that Logan's dominant culture is the civilized one because it has all the amenities of a civilized culture, if only so we're able to forget that Logan and his friend, Francis, are members of a security caste who have semantically argued their way out of considering terminating runners -- people who don't show up for Carrousel -- as murder.  The film, then, is a trick.  Here is the grand old utopia, replete with perpetually safe sex, all the drink you could ever want, food, clothing, housing, and so on and so forth, reminding us that it is a utopia by showing us just how utopic it is by comparison.  Oh, trickery, I know you so well.

And that's just it.  Logan's culture is not a utopia (we know this, of course, but Logan doesn't).  In fact, what Logan soon discovers is that "renewal" at Carrousel never actually happens (you're disintegrated and that's it), that even your friends will hunt you down if you run, and that his world is one of infantilization.  How could it not be?  The "state" becomes the "mother," the "father" disappears entirely, and the people are made into subservient children.  Or, in the case of the feral children in Cathedral, there is no mother, there is no father, and subservience is guaranteed by isolation and a caste system that exiles those who are too old.  
This is the only picture I could find with Francis looking
like the crazy person he becomes in the film...
The feral children (they call them "cubs"), however, are a mirror.  They are what Logan's friend Francis will become when he learns of Logan's betrayal (semi-betrayal, really, since Logan is initially following the orders of the "mother" system).  In a fit of childish revenge, Francis stalks Logan into Cathedral, and then across half of the domed city, growing increasingly more irate, more mad, and more like a child seeking his father -- Logan.  As a stand-in for the entire Sandman force (those who terminate Runners), Francis represents the feral nature of man -- which this society has suppressed through rampant pleasure -- bubbling to the surface.  Feral children no more, for Francis becomes that child in adult form, rampaging in a desperate attempt to reclaim the old world, in which he and his best friend enjoy everything together like a child with its parents.  It's the ultimate form of infantilization:  dependency on the "state" and dependency on the "surrogate parent."

That's not to suggest that Logan and Jessica (who I have only mentioned in a caption because she's honestly just a pretty face in this film, which fails the Bechdel test a million times over) are less infantilized in Logan's Run.  Rather, they are childish in a rather revealing way.  Whereas Francis and the feral children of Cathedral are indicative of the psychological toll of suppressing thought (via the "state") and suppressing interrogation (on the part of the "state" and the "individual"), Logan and Jessica are the polar opposites:  children who cannot control their curiosity.  Thus, when they manage to escape their domed city, some of their first experiences are literally first experiences -- and they respond to those experiences like children might.  Curiosity.
If you didn't know, this guy won two Oscars for previous performances.
A wonderful example of this more positive infantilization is when Logan and Jessica discover the unnamed Old Man in the fallen city of Washington, D.C. (the viewer knows the city; the characters do not).  Having grown up in a world without wrinkles and white/grey hair, they are shocked at the Old Man's appearance.  Is this what happens when you grow old?  Doesn't it hurt to have all those "cracks" in your face?  How did you get here (or, perhaps more humorously:  if you were a baby, where did you come from)?  Jessica then touches the Old Man's face, foreshadowing the ending:  the domed city collapses because the truth in Logan's mind shatters the computerized system that runs everything, and everyone is forced outside, where they discover the Old Man and, in a kind of touching orgy, begin to feel his face (I must admit that this is a rather adorable moment).  Of course, Jessica and Logan are initially interrupted by Francis, who has finally lost his mind -- thus, the cycle of violent infantilization is complete (suppression, terror, madness).

This is perhaps why I find Logan's Run such a compelling narrative, and also a somewhat terrifying future.  To imagine a world in which we are all violent or confused children is to imagine the collapse of true civilization.  Logan's Run imagines a city of trickery, for we can only accept the utopian ideals as utopian if we suppress the knowledge that the people who exist there are themselves mere fixtures in a cyclical culture that has no hope of progressing because it suppresses the very idea of "progress."  After all, if pregnancy is not a problem in the dome city -- it isn't -- what purpose does dying at 30 serve if not to keep people from spending too much time questioning?

And that's all I've got to say for the moment.  Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

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*They are portrayed as savage and tribal, which is certainly a problematic association.  I'd also like to clarify that the world if Logan's Run does not literally throw children into the wild in the same way as Lord of the Flies.  I am simply referring to the way the feral children are presented.

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