'Logan Noir': How Monochrome Fuels Intimacy
When I saw James Mangold's Logan for the first time, I was treated to what I believed to be one of the most riveting and timeless superhero films of all-time. With eloquent storytelling that drew up memories of classic western tragedies, and the audacity to push a comic-book character so renowned as Wolverine to his darkest point, Mangold presented us with a captivating image of what a superhero film can look like when all the glamorous allure of modern blockbuster filmmaking is tucked away. Walking away from my first viewing of Logan, the potential of what can emerge at the intersection of classic filmmaking, modern-day consequences, and the superhero genre left my mind racing. Revisiting Logan, this time in the special black-and-white edition known as Logan Noir, another ideal sprung to mind -- the intimacy of monochrome.
While the story of James Mangold's bold take on a crippling Wolverine in Logan might not change that much when a layer of monochrome is applied to the film, something inherently authentic is revealed when we first lay our eyes upon the grim dystopian world in which we find our flawed -- and clawed -- protagonist. While the iridescent bluish haze of the looming billboard we see outside of Logan's rental limousine is reduced to a grey and white gleam in the background, we focus not on the landscape beyond, but on the broken facade of our hero. Drunk, his mind hazy from a long night on the job, Logan stares back as us with a gleam of regret and pain, as he tumbles out of the vehicle into a world as vulnerable as he is. Even before a disgruntled brawl of black and grey bloodshed sidelines him outside his limo, we see a version of Wolverine we've never seen on-screen before: an anti-hero both disjointed from the audience, yet intimately connected to it.
The keyword here, a phrase that sprung into my mind even before seeing Logan Noir in all its black-and-white glory, is intimacy. At the heart of intimacy, we find words like "closeness" and "familiarity", expressions that circle the definition of another term evoked within Logan -- humanity. At its core, Logan is far from your modern superhero or comic-book film; it doesn't rely on flashy set pieces to tell a story, or toss us a generic villain that cripples our hero with exterior force (for the most part). The film likens more towards films like 1953's Shane and even 2008's The Wrestler (two films Mangold used as reference points for both the story and cinematography of Logan) which tell tales of broken heroes dwelling on their morality. In the case of Logan, we find a weary Wolverine battling not only his own internal demons, but the consequences of the brutal world that has taken away nearly everything he once held dear.
The topic of intimacy and its relation to humanity and consequence finds greater meaning in Logan Noir, as Logan, while visually entrenched in darkness, struggles to find the light within his dystopian future. What truly drew me to Logan Noir in the first place was that its purpose was not to elevate the striking appeal of the film's intimate cinematography to a higher level, but to enclose its characters in a box much more confined that the original film. Logan Noir worked to pull its super-powered characters out of the realm of modern superhero filmmaking, and into a nostalgic yet unsettling fantasy-world where superpowers and mutants fail to matter, where what matters most is the festering morality of its occupants. That box that encloses our characters is one that forces broken souls to join hands, and face the consequences of modern-day society with a refined feeling of familiarity.
Returning to my first point on intimacy, Logan as a character is amplified further by the use of monochrome. While the full colorized version of Logan does a phenomenal job at portraying Hugh Jackman's renowned mutant in a light we never expected to get, Logan Noir and its fundamental box that encased the characters in a realm that confronts the unnerving nature of the modern world paints our protagonist in a way that feels a bit more fulfilling than before. From the first shot of the film, when a drunken Logan struggles to fend off a gang of carjackers to a fitful yet violent end, we feel connected to the character in a way we've never been able to before. Even though we receive a more desensitized version of the film's noticeable bloodshed due to the monochrome setting, we are still able to feel the pain Logan is both receiving and giving away. Within Logan, we don't see Wolverine as the clawed mutant we knew from the X-Men franchise, rather we see him reduced to simply a man forced to confront his past and his future.
Much like the anti-hero in lone gunfighter Shane and the aging wrestler in Mickey Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson, Logan finds his humanity in the people he accompanies himself with along his journey. Through the likes of Patrick Stewart's feeble Charles Xavier, Stephen Merchant's sarcastic albino Caliban, and eventually Dafne Keen's ferocious but volatile mutant Laura, we see Logan's unforgiving morality begin to swarm the confines of that fundamental box that the film creates. We begin to see Logan less as the foul-mouthed alcoholic we meet early in the film, and more as a being who is capable of accepting feelings of compassion and goodness. As he flutters towards a much more intimate place with his equally-broken companions, Logan becomes a mirror for the audience, to see themselves within his stirring humanity.
While Logan succeeds profoundly in giving us both an unnerving entry in the superhero genre, and a unforgettable taste of the berserker rage within Hugh Jackman's character we've been forever earning for, at its core, the film delivers something far more memorable than that. It delivers profound characters that we as the audience, or rather we as humans, can see ourselves in. Partitioning itself from the modern realm of glitzy, fast-paced superhero films, Logan finds its calling in the cruel mirrored image of modern society in which it sets its story. A society of discolored violence, intimacy in pain and darkness, and hope within companionship, the final chapter of Wolverine draws familiarity in peeking into the past, but not dwelling on its consequences. Within the realm of black-and-white, those themes become even more clear.
I'd been turning over ideas in my head on how to write about Logan Noir ever since I picked up the film on Blu-ray back in May. I wanted to express the fundamental emotions that surged through me after seeing the film in black-and-white, and I finally found focus in talking about the intimacy I felt when watching the film in monochrome. While the film's overall impact on me didn't really change, I was left simply entranced by how much more human the film felt without color. Through the grim blacks, the blinding whites, and everything in-between, the film felt both nostalgic and vulnerable, which made it feel like nothing else before it.
I hope you guys appreciate my further rant on Logan. It's one of my favorite films of the year so far, and Logan Noir just made it even more meaningful as an odd cousin to the superhero film genre. If you liked this kind of thing and want more, tweet me or let me know in the comments what film I should talk about next. Of course, stay tuned for more film reviews and other discussions like this coming soon!