Logan’s Run and the Question We Don’t Want Asked Oct23

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Logan’s Run and the Question We Don’t Want Asked

Art from the original movie poster by Charles Moll.
No one wants to know when they’re going to die. But for some reason, I am fascinated by a society built around the notion. The novel-turned-movie Logan’s Run deals with a shiny dystopian future that indulges your every desire, but demands that you give up your life at thirty. A crystal in the palm of your hand maps out your life in colours—white, yellow, green, red, and finally black. A few citizens decide to seek escape, running from the safety of the vast, domed city. A squad of elite policemen—the Sandmen—pursue and kill them. The penalty for trying to avoid death is… well… more immediate death.

The runners choose to run because they have heard of a mythical safe place called Sanctuary.

The computer that runs the city selects a Sandman named Logan 5 to find and destroy Sanctuary. As motivation, the computer adjusts Logan’s lifeclock and steals his remaining four years. He goes from 26 to 30 in an instant. He lifeclock blinks red-and-black, signaling that he has just 24 hours left. Having no other options, Logan takes the assignment.

Most of us don’t face the immediate deadline that motivates Logan.

In high school, I kept coming back to the story because I was just beginning to grapple with the question of mortality. Logan has an innate desire to survive that drives his mad quest for sanctuary. He didn’t think dying was something he’d have to worry about for another four years. But with a day to live and very little to go on, Logan follows one clue—an ankh he stole from a terminated runner—and connects with a younger woman named Jessica. She wears the ankh and he suspects she has ties to the runners’ underground, so he convinces her he’s a runner too and they follow the trail to Sanctuary.

When I was young, I think I saw my future in terms of absolutes. I knew what I wanted. Life was mine for the taking. My life was, to put it bluntly, all about me.  I probably should have listened to St. Paul, who advises us, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.”

Logan and Jessica make their way to the ice caverns of the man/machine hybrid known as Box. This, it turns out, is the end of the line. All of the runners who seemed to have escaped are, in fact, entombed in the ice. Box is in charge of the city’s food supply. When the sea life stopped coming and the runners arrived, Box simply stored the humans as a substitute food source. Ugh.

It was the end of the line. Logan and Jessica had discovered the sad truth; Sanctuary was a myth. All that awaited the runners was an icy death.

Most of us don’t face the immediate deadline that motivates Logan, and sometimes we forget about our own mortality. Would we live our lives differently if we knew they would end in 24 hours? That’s the question we don’t want asked, because answering honestly means we might have to change.

Fame, wealth, and happiness are the goals society tells us to pursue in our mortality. Those are things that supposedly make life meaningful and how we take our minds off our eventual encounters with the grim reaper.

Except Logan was a Sandman—one of the elite policemen charged with maintaining order through violence. In a society built around death, there are none higher than those who are its servants. Fame and wealth were at his disposal. Yet when his crystal started blinking, Logan was as terrified as anyone else. His status was suddenly meaningless.

Happiness, then. Perhaps brought about by pleasure. In the film, the domed city is portrayed as an enormous pleasure palace where all behaviours are permitted. The citizens seem to enjoy a permanent party with drugs and sex readily available. It’s not even clear that all of the people have jobs. We see the Sandmen, a few policemen, and a plastic surgeon, but otherwise the vocations of the people are a mystery. Yet their carefree lifestyle doesn’t guarantee joy. You’d think when you know your end is coming, you’d work to find a purpose for it. But the first time we see Jessica, she is clearly depressed even though her crystal is green and she has years left to live.

Fame, wealth, and happiness are the goals society tells us to pursue in our mortality.

I can relate to the citizens of the domed city. When I was young, I saw my future in terms of absolutes. I knew what I wanted. Life was mine for the taking. My life was, to put it bluntly, all about me.  I probably should have listened to St. Paul, who advises us, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.”

So how do we find true joy in life—a purpose worth living for? Logan’s story does, in the end, point towards hope.

After he and Jessica escape Box, they explore the land outside and eventually come to the ruins of Washington, D.C. In the wrecked Senate Chambers they meet an old man who tells them about his family. He explains that he had a mother and a father. Intrigued by this alien concept, Logan decides to take the old man back to the domed city to meet the citizens even though returning to the city puts Logan at risk. Predictably, he is captured and interrogated. His insistence that there is no Sanctuary destroys the computer and the society it maintains. Logan’s insight in sharing the old man’s story brings about a radical change; the citizens are no longer condemned to an early death, but are free to live their lives. Almost unknowingly, Logan shifted his focus outward—from pleasure, fame, and death to seeking the good of others.

Would we live our lives differently if we knew we only had 24 hours left? Does expecting 60+ years lull us into complacency? Too often we act like citizens of Logan’s world—distracting ourselves through selfish pleasure. We act as if our lives are wholly our own and we have no responsibility beyond fulfilling our own desires. We might all be a little bit better off if we took a lesson from Logan (and Paul) and realized that our lives are not solely for us.

Kevin Cummings

Kevin Cummings

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Kevin grew up reading the ABCs—Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. Since then he's expanded his fandoms to include films, television, web series and any other geek property he can find.

He has been married to an extraordinarily patient woman for more than three decades and they have two adult sons. Kevin also has entirely too many DVD boxes with the words "Complete Series" on the cover. He enjoys exploring themes of faith through his fandoms.
Kevin Cummings

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