by Ken Sanes
These are the most important meanings and symbols at least as they make themselves known to this writer. What are we to make of all these elements (along with other elements that have been overlooked or minimized)? Do they merely coexist? Is the movie only a vehicle the writer and creators used to express fantasies and ideas that were on their minds, but which don't necessarily have any connection to each other?
Undoubtedly there is some of that in the movie. The mind, after all, can pack a number of not-necessarily relate meanings into what look like a single set of images, words and ideas. But the fantasies embodied in Logan's Run are more tightly woven than that and, together, they form a single pattern. The most fundamental realm of meaning is the one that has to do with personality and family. This doesn't mean the other realms of meaning that deal with myth and society are merely disguises to tell us a story about childhood and growing up. But they take much of their significance and motive force from our perceptions and thoughts on these basic psychodynamic issues. They do so because both society and myth are permeated by these same psychodynamic issues.
In order to describe the larger pattern that is formed by all these elements, let me begin by examining the way our basic psychodynamics are given their form in our early upbringing. All of us develop in early childhood a mental model or complex image of ourselves and our relationship to others. This model defines the basic story line(s) we will enact and express throughout life -- it is our basic plot, defining the characters we play and those we try to get others to play for us.
We learn it from the larger culture but, most significantly, from our parents or primary caretakers, who have their own mental model which they developed in interaction with the significant others of their own childhood. As a part of this process, our culture and parents extend their own world of fantasy -- their own story line -- around us; they incorporate us into it. so a variation on it becomes our perception of ourselves and the world.
But this mental model isn't merely a set of ideas or story lines; it is also imbued with emotions, and fears and desires. That is because we come to these early relationships with inborn propensities to desire and fear certain things. We are then told, through overt and covert communications, who we and others are, what is desirable, what desires are allowed to be expressed and how, what punishments we need fear, and what strategies will help us get what we desire. All of this is internalized in our largely unconscious representation of the world (or our story, fantasy, or mental model), which governs us as we navigate through life. It is no exaggeration to say that we are immersed in it -- we are it -- so that the world we see is the world as it is structured by our representation. And we end up reenacting it not only in relationships but in an internalized theater, in the mind, so we are forever playing out the dramas of childhood inside ourselves.
It becomes internalized because we come into the world biologically predisposed to depend on our caretakers, to seek their approval, allow our motives to be shaped by them, and see ourselves and our world through their eyes. We are born ready to play our roles.
But at the same time, other forces are at work that ensure we won't simply re-create what we are taught. Each of us is born with a unique, inherited, psychology, and abilities; we have an inherent creativity that causes us to do things our own way, and we always draw our socialization from more than one person, and from various kinds of experiences, requiring us to creatively synthesize what we are taught.
As a result, we also put up varying degrees of resistance, in ways that express both healthy and regressive motives. We see through defenses and false claims; we mock; say no; engage in passive aggression; seek out alternative sources of information, and use what we are given for our own purposes, as we go about creating our own identity, based on our own model of the world.
Most important, we have what, for the purpose of this essay, will be described as two countervailing desires. On the one hand, we have powerful desires to become independent and mature, to prefer honesty over dishonesty, truth to misleading fictions, fairness over corruption, love to hate, and to grow out of our childhood relationship to our parents. At the same time, we are born psychologically fragile and undeveloped and we are prone to fixation on, and regression to, neurotic behaviors in response to real and imagined dangers that become associated with these normal desires. If being normally assertive results in covert threats, for example, then a child may cover up his or her natural assertiveness, back away from it, suffer anxiety attacks in reaction to it, and force him or herself into dependent relationships.
Inevitably, being a mix of health and neurosis themselves, parents will encourage both these tendencies, to one degree or another. On the healthier side, they may help their children develop, and give them permission to develop, their natural abilities, and to become their inherent selves. They will free up their children to be independent and assertive; to know what they know and express it; to exercise natural talents and abilities; to develop relationships and learn they are sexual beings. Most important, they will give their children permission to grow up and out of their dependent, fearing, relationship with them, to outgrow it and grow beyond it, so that the parents seem to become smaller and, eventually, assume a normal human size, as their children progress.
To the degree parents interfere with this process for their own purposes; and tell their children that independence and assertion; sexuality and love; knowing what one knows and expressing it, are a source of danger, the children will be unhealthy. To the extent children are threatened with loss of support, covert and overt threats, ridicule, traps, rejection, seduction, pressure to perform and so on, their upbringing will be unhealthy. In response, they will develop a mental model that tells them many things that are natural to them are not allowed, and, in the face of unconscious perceptions of danger, and also as a result of modeling themselves after parents and others, they will learn to regress into neurotic behaviors, as a way of fleeing into imagined safety.
The children with the healthier upbringing will be more freed up to experience people and situations as they are, with less interference from anxiety and less perception of danger, and they will be freer to exercise their talents accordingly. The less healthy child will go out into the world with a story line full of controllers, castrators, suspicious investigators, success haters, et al, that drive his behavior.
All of us, as we have gone through the process of being shaped this way, will have covertly and overtly, looked close at our caretakers (and others) to see the degree to which we are told the truth, and the degree to which we are dealt with fairly and offered benevolent parenting that seeks to launch us to a complete adulthood, as opposed to being used corruptly to bolster defenses and satisfy the parents' unacknowledged desires, including desires for control. As a result, every child, (to modify a famous story about Diogenes), is in search of an honest parent.
But, even children with the healthiest upbringing, end up with a script that includes an image of themselves as children in relation to parents who have more status, privilege, ability and power. As a result, most everything that becomes a part of all of our basic plots -- rebellion, cooperation, desire to please, fear, sexual desire, the yearning to be admired, resentment, parenting urges, shame -- revolves around our relation to our parents as children, as we adapt it to new situations in life.
Enacting this basic plot, and its subplots, we end up constantly mistaking the real people and situations of life for these internalized plots and characters, and so we end up playing variations on controlling parents, admired children, castrated revenge-seekers, rebels who expose the lies of the family, or, if we have had a healthier upbringing, we re more likely to play loving supporters, helpful siblings, fair punishers, and so on. We recruit others to reenact these roles with us, based on their own essential plots, so that, in every interaction, the performers improvise, based on their own scripts, to create what looks like a single play. As Freud and psychoanalysis put it, we transfer the fears and desires and perceptions from our early relationships onto those that come after.The primitive unconscious and emotional mind mistakes the drama of childhood for present-day reality, and we end up repeating the past instead of knowing and remembering.
In fact, in some ways, society can be described as a group of people who are perpetually trying to lure each other into re-creating the fantasized version of their childhood relationships in ways that play to their own emotional and practical goals. Thus, many people we encounter will try to get us to respond to them as if they are our parents. They want us to seek their approval, perceive them as having power and mystery, fear opposing them. In many instances, they (and we) instrumentally manipulate the psychology of the interaction in the service of power and profit, backing up their efforts to control our psyche with whatever practical rewards and punishments are at their command.
Thus, one participant in an interaction will covertly send out the message -- "I'm the parent and it is forbidden to oppose me." The other then responds by unconsciously perceiving him (or herself) as small and vulnerable, and believing that if he challenges this, he will suffer one of the feared calamities of childhood -- the loss of love or esteem or support, or various kinds of attack. The end result is a kind of interaction we are all familiar with in which one side dominates, one seeks to placate and please (while secretly rebelling and finding disguised ways to assert control). Each mistakes his or her own "script" or story for something real and ends up creating a reality that conforms to a fantasy in the mind.
Each also derives various profits from the interaction. The first interactant has mobilized the fantasies of both their childhoods in order to exert control, which can serve all kinds of practical ends, since he is now clearly in charge. It is in his practical interest that they share in this delusional fantasy. The second may derive feelings of safety or a feeling of being loved, in addition to avoiding the anxiety that would be provoked by refusing to go along. He may even evoke the interaction or seek it out, as a way of exerting control over himself, to keep himself from doing other things that are even more anxiety provoking.
To use an example most people will immediately recognize, sales people are forever trying to draw us into a circle of temporary intimacy in which their explicit acts of deference conceal an effort to dominate us and make it so we are afraid to say no, for fear we will enrage them, hurt their feelings, disappoint them or make them feel they have wasted their time. Neither side appreciates the degree to which each is enacting internalized roles from childhood. But one side manipulates the psychology of the interaction in the service of very tangible profits.
As a result of these interactions, society is a network of interactions based on both real and fantasized relationships. In particular, much of its power structure depends on the instrumental manipulation of fantasy to maintain itself. Immersed in these fantasies, we may fear challenging those in power; we may depend on them to lead us and frame issues; we may seek their approval and they will use our fear, our dependence and our desire for approval to influence us. Inevitably, we experience jealousy; we rebel; we enjoy seeing through their machinations, and we fear the result, representing all of this to ourselves and others with varying degrees of disguise and explicitness.
All of this is made possible by the fact that we are constantly surveilling ourselves and others. An unacknowledged part of all of us is always on the lookout. What are these other people really up to, it wants to know. What can I get away with? What must I do? And always, we are on the lookout for someone with the strength to not be a participant in the game. Are they corrupt, defensive, and offering mutual disguise? Or is this someone who can be honest and invite us into honesty; who will accept truth without retaliation; who isn't looking for ways to manipulate us for his or her own corrupt purposes? Always we are on the lookout for a savior, a righteous person, someone strong enough to live without a veil of illusion.
These psychodynamic characteristics of personality are essential to understanding Logan's Run and a great many other fictional creations, including many other works of post-apocalyptic fiction. But before examining its relevance, we also have to look at how all of this is communicated between people and at the ways we influence our own and each other's perceptions and behavior. Here, we discover that we influence each other through various means. We do so by manipulating the physical settings in which our lives are played out, which inevitably effects how we and others define what is going on. We create something much like stage sets, costumes, and props that express and support our view of things, from the layout of furniture in a room to the clothes we wear. We similarly enact physical behaviors, from tone of voice to body language, that have much in common with acting.
In addition, we use all of these forms of expression, along with words, to express meanings which tend to be organized into stories, full of plots and characterizations, that organize our view of the world. These meanings and stories, in turn, contain within them claims about whether things are good or bad, beautiful or ugly, desirable or undesirable, and whether they are permissible or impermissible, safe or dangerous. And they include communications about what we must and can be done.
In essence, we use all of these elements of interaction to construct a world for ourselves and draw others into it. As some theorists would put it, we engage in the social and psychological construction of "reality", trying to get ourselves and others to experience things a certain way, and see a particular story as the meaning of life.
All of this is one of the most important forms of action we engage in: it is one way we dominate and submit, cooperate and engage in conflict, help and hurt. Most importantly, it is our way of holding and exerting power. The power to create meanings and stories, and have listeners believe that those stories describe the world, rather than seeing them as motivated constructions, is essential if we want to have the power to influence others and shape situations. And we use those stories and meanings, in turn, to maintain our power. When much of the communication is in disguise or falsifies our view of things, then what we are looking at is the relationship not merely between power and meaning, but between power and illusion.
But, based on the psychodynamic characteristics of upbringing referred to earlier, it is obvious that much of the reality we construct for ourselves and each other is none other than the essential script or fantasy or model that governs our thoughts and motives. Parents convey this essential fantasy to children by constructing their world and world view. They create the physical stage on which a child's early life is played out, and they fill it with body language. They tell and enact stories that define who the children are, and what their children are doing. They make claims about what is positive and negative, and proscribe what is expected and allowed, all as a form of action and interaction.
Later in life, we all do the same: we construct a reality for ourselves and each other, based on our unacknowledged fantasies about ourselves and our relationship to parents. That means much of the reality we construct is in hiding; it is under the surface. It also means that transference, or the tendency to draw ourselves and others into our own fantasy world, and the construction of reality, are essential to each other. What we transfer onto each situation is precisely our constructed view of the world, and all the feelings that go along with it. And we believe the fantasies presented to ourselves, by ourselves and others, because of the power of the transference. Putting these ideas together, one can say that the ability to construct a world for someone that evokes and plays on their transference is one of the most essential tools of power.
When we look at the governing groups that control much of the public life of nations such as America, including the news and entertainment media, corporations, advertisers and politicians, we find that they do all these same things. They seek to weave a spell around us, to define our reality. They use these techniques to evoke transference and play on it. Just as our parents caused us to enter their unconscious fantasy world -- their representational world -- through covert communication, so do those in power in society invite us to enter their fantasy world, a world of deceptions and disguises. Politicians become benevolent parents; while journalists invite us to identify with them and vicariously play the role of children who will unseat those who unworthily hold power, and take power for themselves, while denying they are doing so.
Here too, all these groups create physical settings and engage in body language; they tell us stories; make claims and proscribe what is required and allowed; all to influence our perception of things. But, here, the construction of reality and the effort to instrumentally evoke the transference have been vastly enhanced with science and technology, and turned into a science of marketing and entertainment, in which polls and computers play an essential role in shaping rhetoric, image and propaganda. These governing groups don't merely manipulate physical settings: they construct elaborate sets and simulations, often full of spectacle; they give shape to complex visual and auditory images; make use of costumes and props, and rely on professional-quality acting, to draw us into their invented realities. They similarly hire expert story-tellers who analyze each sequence for its role in the larger effort.
Some of their creations, such as the fabricated fantasy environments of theme parks or the images we see in movies such as Logan's Run, are avowedly forms of fiction. In other instances, such as in the forms of theater engaged in by politicians and the phony identities of celebrities, an effort is made to make us believe that these invented realities are something genuine. But all draw us into fantasy worlds in which they make claims about the nature of life, society and self, and about what is good and bad, that they intend for us to take as true. Fiction, like "fact" tries to construct our view of the word, whether it is Disney's fabricated environments telling us that corporate America is a font of progress or Logan's Run giving us messages about the dangers of technology and power.
They do all this by playing to our fears and desires, even though, like the hypothetical salesman, they may not understand many of the psychological processes they are tapping in to, or don't care about them. Even when they offer us obvious lies and manipulations -- "5.8 percent interest"; "free!!!": "balanced budget" -- they are playing to deeper fantasies -- parental love, security, escape from guilt.
In doing this, they re-create the more negative aspects of the role of parent, and they confirm our often unacknowledged fears about the world. They seek to infantilize the public, to keep it in a state of unknowing and in a state of symbiosis. They offer us a culture in which power is used for manipulation and deception, and is by nature corrupt. And as they increasingly bring up society's children, with their control of the invented realities of television, movies, the Internet, and the rest of the entertainment industry, they become corrupt surrogate parents in a more immediate sense, who implant a map of the world in children in which power is used to violate, in which it is a form of hate rather than love.
Some try to draw us into their fantasy world in an effort, as Marcuse believed, to maintain the capitalist system as a whole, and the class interests of the rich. But Marcuse's description in which the capitalist system as a whole maintains itself by inculcating propaganda into the mind, seems overstated, and better suited to totalitarian dictatorships in which media and institutions are all supposed to support the supposedly benevolent parent-regime by drawing entire nations into a lie. There are certainly plenty of instances of that. But in America and similar nations, what one finds instead are many centers of power, all trying to manipulate our perception of reality and evoke transference out of more limited form of rational self-interest, to sell product, attain status and so on. In fact, these techniques are now used by virtually everyone seeking power and money, whatever the specifics of their agenda.
Everyone who makes use of these techniques gives us the same message: we should accept their construction of things as real. Don't question. Internalize what you are told, so it becomes your perception of the world and shapes what you do in life.
As we find in families, so in society at large we discover that many people allow their view of things to be shaped by this process. But they also resist and refuse and, ultimately, they take what they are given and transform it in ways that fit into their lives. And, always in the back of their minds, they are on the lookout for those who will use power in a noncorrupt way, more as a form of love than hate, which is why truth sells, or would sell if more leaders would tell some.
When we look at culture in its totality, say in America, we see the same thing. Here, culture will be defined as the ultimate representational world, the construction of reality that is negotiated and perpetuated collectively by all actors, including individuals in daily life, large blocks of people, institutions, and governing groups, with their ability to influence the public, en masse. This culture, in turn, contains subcultures -- representational worlds within the larger representational world, from the subcultures of large ethnic groups down to the mental map of each individual.
This culture and its subcultures are maintained by all these same processes in which players (people, institutions, media -- in essence, everyone) shape settings, tell stories, make claims about what is positive and negative and, in so doing, act, in order to shape their own and each other's view of the world.
Once again, this relationship is imbued with transference. We exist in a symbiotic relationship with culture; it is the milk we drink and the amniotic fluid in which we live. Like the parents, who give us our first paradigms of culture, it defines much of our view of the world and our selves. And a part of its message is the same message we see everywhere -- don't challenge; accept this construction of the world; don't try to see it as it is. As with everything described here, we are kept inside culture by a boundary of fear and anxiety -- to push beyond is to get an electro-shock of anxiety, a warning that we are putting ourselves in danger and, if we continue, there will be worse to come. That danger is the fear of retaliation -- ultimately fear of retaliation from parents.
Finally, there is one other process at work that is relevant to understanding what the movie can teach us. We also transfer our fears and desires to technology, incorporating it into our representational world and fantasies. On the one hand, technology evokes in us fantasies of attaining untold powers. On the other, we are always in danger of covertly regressing in relation to it and depending on it more and more, both practically and emotionally. We exist in a state of oral dependence on our television sets, computers, ATMs, et al, waiting for them to satisfy our various forms of hunger. As technology advances, we expand through its power, but we lose something as well.
Logan's Run provides a condensed image of all this. The computer is depicted as a parent and the internalized image of a parent in a mind, and as a con artist, authority figure, political leader, media manipulator and a source of culture. It is also a form of technology. It does what all of us do: it constructs a world in which its child-subject-customer-audience-victims can live and die. It surrounds them with a physical setting that creates an alluring world and blocks out everything else; it plants stories in their minds that define what is real; implants value judgments that make questions and challenges seem like deviations and signs of abnormality, and uses all this to control them. It uses its power to construct their reality and it constructs their reality in ways that uphold its own power, all the while telling its subjects they are never to question. As in the family, what is allowed to be said and thought is surrounded by a circle of anxiety, with sandmen to annihilate those who turn questions into actions.
The computer does all this as a part of its effort to infantilize the inhabitants of the city and draw them into a symbiosis in which it is in control. Ultimately, it turns out to be mad, the insane, dysfunctional, fabricator of an insane system that masquerades as the world. In the end, its child-subjects grow up and see through the charade.
The movie is able to describe the dynamics of mind, family, politics, media and culture with the same story because they are much the same, in the ways described above. With the internalization of the family drama inside the mind and the subsequent acting out and externalization of this drama in life, it comes to pass that mind, family and society are governed by the same dynamics. The battle over power, privilege, and acceptance, which is waged, in part, through the construction of reality, goes on in all of them. Minds contain families. Families act like group minds. Families are political. Minds are political systems with their own rebellions, controllers and propaganda. Political systems act like minds and families. It was Freud who showed us the mind is a society, and Freud and Durkheim who showed us that society acts like a mind, an insight that is more true today when the mass media serves as the projection screen of collective consciousness, shaped by influences of power and motive that are often unseen.
In each case, the movie tells us, we have to be willing to go outside the shelter that protects us and closes us in, and let ourselves be vulnerable. We have to escape our enmeshment in the power relations and constructed realities of mind, family and society, and then we will see where (and who) we are for the first time.
In offering us this alternative vision, Logan's Run is doing what all good stories do. It is, after all, one of the essential functions of stories to let us see -- and see through -- other ways of looking at the world, other constructed "realities". In effect, it is the role of better forms of fiction to construct fictional versions of the world, which everyone knows are fiction, in order to expose the ways we mistake fiction for reality. They invent worlds to challenge our invented worlds. They do so both by showing us other worlds that make clear ours is only one possible world. And they do so by showing us characters who mistake the fictions of their world and their own minds for reality, until they recognize a higher truth that leads to the conclusion of the story.
We become a part of these stories by identifying and empathizing with, and by hating, desiring and judging the heroes, victims, villains, and other assorted characters, all of whom are types taken from contemporary society, which also represent parts of our selves and our significant others. We become psychologically absorbed in the conflicts and alliances between the characters. Everything in the story -- the sensory manipulations, the meanings and plot, the claims of good and bad -- are actions designed to carry us to a resolution, and affect our view of things.
In other words, works of fiction, like other products of culture, draw us into a constructed world that is also a disguised version of the world of childhood fantasy. Their authors instrumentally manipulate fantasy and transference, calling up the stories in themselves that they believe their audiences will respond to.
To the degree the stories they create try to get us to accept some visions of the world and reject others, they may, as noted above, be forms of propaganda that are embodied in something that looks like reality. Logan's Run is just such a form of propaganda, pushing a particular vision of society and the self, which convinces us, at least while we watch the movie, of its definition of true and false forms of freedom. In the invented world it shows us, we are encouraged to see through self-oriented lifestyles and dependence on technology, and the rationales that maintain these. But we are also encouraged to accept, and not question, the movie's implicit contention that a stoic life of marriage and work are the true forms of human freedom. In effect, like many other stories, it creates a kind of symbiosis with us; it seeks to play the parent to our accepting child, feeding us a vision of reality we are to accept.
But its ability to impress itself on us isn't based only on its ability to construct a semblance of a believable world, or to play to early fantasies. In addition, it draws us in because it plays out for us essential parts of the collective fantasy and mental map many of us share, about what is happening to society and ourselves. Its message about our culture and politics is that we are becoming a society of atomized individuals, who depend on those in power to define our world, structure our lifestyles, and make the decisions that affect our lives. Those in power draw us into constructed realities based on illusions, the movie says, and we then act out the fantasies they offer us. This is, in fact, a message that has been expressed with different emphases by both the left and right. The right sees vast bureaucracies with political agendas, which increasingly intervene in people's lives and break down more traditional bonds of family and community. Many on the left, like Marcuse, see capitalism and a controlled state turning everything into a commodity, selling people goods and a lifestyle; selling politicians and manufacturing consent in public opinion. Some culture critics on the right see the same thing, although they seem more reluctant to draw the conclusion that this is a very disturbing side to capitalism -- that it is, in fact, the form that capitalism takes in a society with advanced capabilities when it comes to technology and communications.
But many on the right are also willing to see what some on the left still remain blind to -- that we are most frequently encouraged to lead lifestyles saturated with sex for reasons that have nothing to do with personal fulfillment. Marcuse saw this, although in his view culture had been hypersexualized because the powers that be want to buy us off so we will support the system, which is also the idea behind the movie. It is closer to the truth to say that society has become hypersexualized because, as everyone knows by now, sex is a powerful tool of economic manipulation. The freeing up of human sexuality and a focus on self-fulfillment, which became a rallying cry for the 60s counterculture, was taken up by those with something to sell, converted into a vision of life as endless entertainment, to create a new generation of consumers for a new generation of capitalism. Here, the computer symbolizes America's corporations, who sacrifice us to the Moloch of a decadent, consumer, paradise to turn us into good customers.
In place of such a hypersexualized, atomized, society in which many people are in a state of symbiotic dependence on those in power, the movie suggests an alternative ethic of personal responsibility and a willingness to embrace the conditions of life. It says this explicitly by having the characters embrace marriage and procreation as the way of the world. It also suggests it by having the old man refer to famous words from the Gettysburg Address on the Lincoln Memorial, about a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. He doesn't exactly know what it means, but with this, the movie holds out a vision of a democracy in which everyone participates as a free person, rather than one in which all are coerced and hypnotized to not know it is taking place. (That is also a reference to another emancipator, of course.)
The movie similarly offers alternative models of parenting and leadership. It does so by showing how Logan and Jessica risk their lives to tell the truth and free their people. And it does so in the old man who guides them to a delayed adulthood. At one point, the old man gets Jessica to promise to bury him after he dies. In another, they bury Francis, the other sandman. Both scenes establish the idea that there should be a connection between the generations -- mutual responsibility -- in place of the ahistorical cycle of the city, full of people whose primary connection is to the computer that controls their life.
But the movie also has another message that is a variation on the most important myth of our time, which is about the relationship between unlimited technology and the limits of human character. Like Star Trek, its central message is that our wisdom will have to keep up with our power or else the technology we believe will liberate us will end up enslaving and destroying us instead. It shows us the way technology can take the central human dilemma, between true and false forms of freedom, and amplify it until the stakes become the world itself.
Put in terms of the issues described above, the message of Logan's Run is that the individual must grow out of his or her limitations and so must the human race. As we saw above, this process involves breaking free from the illusions of childhood, the family, society, and culture, which are imprinted on the mind and which the mind helps to manufacture, and breaking through to our true selves and an authentic existence. It means freeing ourselves from the grip of the manipulators who use technology to control society and shape its illusions, and who, the movie tells us, are all too capable of leading us to destruction. More specifically, it means we have to grow out of the infantilizing culture that is developing in the West, in which technology, world view, and the human desire for an easy life all work together, and are worked by those in power, to keep us in a prison disguised as home. This is a variation on the task that has faced everyone in every age, but one that, given the stakes, looms very large, today.
Whether we see the movie as a story of technology run amok due to our failure to take responsibility or as a story about manipulators who misuse technology to control us, this essential message is the same. After all, when technology goes out of control, it is usually because the same governing groups that use it as a tool of power, also use it carelessly and use their power to cover up what they do.
The movie employs the symbolism of birth to reinforce this message. Freeing ourselves from the limited world of our culture and society, and from the infantilizing qualities of technology, it says, is like the process of birth, and both are like growing out of our families. It is painful and requires a tolerance for separation and vulnerability, but ultimately, it sets us free. Of course, it goes further than that, as well, since it is about not only growing into a new freedom, but overthrowing the order we came out of and setting up a new one.
The movie similarly uses images and ideas from the Old and New Testament, with their emphasis on prophets and saviors who can lead us from falsehood to truth, and from wickedness to righteousness, to tell a story about the emergence into psychological health and adulthood that is contemporary, although still Judeo-Christian in its meaning. Biblical symbolism is particularly well suited to telling such a story because it sees untruth and a lack of righteousness as bound together, and tells us we can break free into truth and righteousness by seeing the world as inherently ethical in character.
The movie takes all these ideas and, by drawing us into a believable world, it lets us vicariously experience what it would be like to live out these conflicts and their resolution. It lets us experience what we might become, as individuals and a race, if we fail to be born into, and grow up into, true adulthood. We experience what it is like to face obstacles put in our path by those who would keep us enslaved, and to overcome those obstacles and achieve freedom.
We experience all this, in part, by identifying with the two main characters, especially with Logan, who is clearly the central figure. As the characters go on their archetypal journey, we go with them and as Logan simultaneously goes on a journey of mind and emotion in which everything he identified with and loved is now abhorred, we vicariously undergo the same transformation. At the same time, we watch him from a sympathetic and more critical distance, in which we wish him success and are able to see the entire story as a single unit.
Ultimately, by identifying with Logan, we get a sense of how revolutions and revolutionaries are made. Logan begins the movie with some doubts about the society he lives in, not unlike the audience. He is clearly ready for a transformation, although like most of the heroes of fiction who are recruited into their destiny, he doesn't know it yet. First, he will have to be exiled from everything he loves in order to discover that he was in exile from himself.
His journey is made possible by of a number of characters: the computer, which speeds up his "life clock" and reveals that renewal is a lie; the old man; and Jessica, who not only guides him on the first part of the journey out of the city but also leads him to a new way of seeing things, because she is ahead of him in understanding. Each in a different way plays a role that is at the essence of fiction: they function as occasions for the growth of the main character. Each provides a key, not unlike the key that Logan has to use to get passed a door that will lead to the outside. It is shaped like an Egyptian Ankh, which is presumably intended to be a symbol of life. The movie, also, hopes to be a key through a door for the audience and an occasion for growth, as do this essay.
When Logan stands before his people, now a prophet, screaming the truth to them, that is the authors of the movie speaking to us and, when I quote it, that is me speaking to you. In effect, that is the movie offering us Logan as a symbol for the savior we are all waiting for, the one who will rescue us by having the courage to tell the truth.
But we can't get too lost in that symbolism or we end up reenacting martyr and hero fantasies from childhood. It isn't about the authors of the movie or me or you being a savior and leading anyone out of the wilderness. It is about all of us finding and offering each other truth and having the courage to speak up so the system -- of mind and family, media, politics, business and culture -- can evolve into something less corrupt, something that embodies our true selves. It is about all of us developing the ability to lift ourselves out of our immersion in our own story, and society as a whole doing so, as well, to see it as a single patter, from a sympathetic but critical distance, much in the way that Northrop Frye says we can do with fiction and much as good psychotherapists do for their clients.
The movie, in fact, does just this for the audience. Early on, we are immersed in the city. It seems to us exotic, menacing, alluring, and overpowering. But, toward the end, as the characters walk along a beach in the vast world, heading back to the city, with the intent of freeing it, we see the city as a single structure and it looks small in the distance. And as Logan and the old man talk about all those people shut up in there, being killed at 30, we see the city as something pathetic, a kind of shut-in in need of rescue.
In offering us all these possible messages, the movie addresses us as a society that has neither traditional forms of authority nor rational forms of authority in place that can carry out such a project. This idea is all too obvious in the vision it offers of its new humanity as a race of children who will have to grow up on their own. Despite a weak father, in the old man, who introduced the characters to life, they find themselves in a world without fathers, not unlike the one we live in, today.
Whether there is a genuine paradise waiting for Logan and this re-emerged humanity, one suited to a community of free adults who are strong enough to use the powers of the computer wisely and without danger, that is something the movie leaves unsaid. It is a question today's audience, some two decades after the movie was made, is now confronting.