One of our favorite things to do in Orem is go to Savers and check out all the 99 cent VHS tapes on sale. We let the kids pick out what appeals to them, and have some inexpensive fun along the way. This past summer, our son Tom picked out "Logan’s Run," a film made just about 40 years ago (1976). He was attracted to the sci-fi look of the cover; he’s currently engrossed in The Positronic Man by Asimov, and all things sci-fi appeal to him at this stage of teen-hood.
We didn’t actually get around to watching it until recently. One night, Tom proposed seeing it, and I backed him up since the star was the young Michael York, who made such an unforgettable impression as Tybalt in Franco Zeffirelli’s "Romeo and Juliet," and also as D’Artagnan in the 1973 remake of "The Three Musketeers."
"Logan’s Run" was based on a novel of the same name that I have never read, so I have no idea if the movie was true to the original conception or not. The art direction was really quite creative, I thought, though the special effects were definitely of 70s vintage. But the story . . . the story set me back on my heels, and I knew I’d have to write something about it.
We are all used to dystopian American literature by this point, so "Logan’s Run" is not unique in that respect. What is unique is how a dystopia envisioned 40 years ago looks so eerily like our modern society. What was thought dystopian and even horrifying back then is simply the way things are shaping up to be as the new normal now. Looking through this 40 year old telescope was thus a gripping experience; I was riveted.
When we first meet Logan 5, he is doing something we might think is fairly innocuous—he is tapping on a window to the room where newborn babies are kept in bassinets, trying to wake up one particular baby that we assume is his son. Actually, what he is doing is considered rather weird in his society. He did indeed provide the “seed” for Logan 6. But he does not know the “seed mother,” and there is some type of production of the child that does not involve any woman having to be pregnant. (We assume an artificial womb has been created.) His partner—Logan 5 is a policeman, or Sand Man, and so he works with a partner—is somewhat shocked when he finds Logan 5 trying to make a connection with Logan 6. Such things are just not done. No one has a relationship with their predecessor or their posterity. Logan 5 even wonders aloud who the seed mother was. His partner asks, shocked, did he want to meet her? Logan 5 responds, “I’m curious; I’m not crazy!” Even so, his partner, Francis 7, becomes a bit worried. Logan 5 is apparently a bit odd.
And that’s not good in a Sand Man. A Sand Man’s job is to terminate Runners. To explain that concept, some backstory is necessary. Due to some man-made catastrophe, everyone is living inside a series of large domes, where the environment is strictly controlled. And it’s not just the physical environment that is controlled; birth and death are controlled in this world. Logan 6 could not be brought into the world until Logan 5 was near the time of “Renewal.” At age 30, every individual must attempt to “renew.” On a great carousel, the 30 year olds undergo a ritual in which it appears they are taken up to Renewal. We assume Renewal means they somehow continue to exist. The viewer suspects, and the plot confirms, that these people are not being renewed: they are just being killed so that population numbers will be stable.
Apparently some folks in the society also suspect this to be the case, and so there are Runners. These are folks slated for Carousel, who instead try to run away to Sanctuary. Runners are tracked and terminated by Sand Men, and the corpses are dissolved by acid where they lie.
So what does one do in this society on a daily basis? Visually, the movie suggests one lives inside what resembles a giant mall. We are shown a large, well-appointed gym, a place of organized orgy, and also a shop where instantaneous cosmetic surgery takes place to turn you into a “new you” whenever you get bored with the “old you.” At night in his nice one bedroom apartment, Logan 5 switches on the Circuit. Men and women place themselves “on the Circuit” when they desire to have sex. Their holographic image is beamed into Logan 5’s living room, and if he wants to have sex with them, he pushes a button on the remote (he doesn’t even have to swipe right), and the person materializes instantly so that they can have sex. Everyone is young and beautiful, because, after all, you disappear when you are 30. The society apparently revolves around buying things, making your appearance exactly how you wish it to be, exercising to have a beautiful body, and having sex with anyone, male or female, that one chooses for a night, either one-on-one or in an orgy. Everyone lives alone in their one bedroom apartments, and there are no mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, sons or daughters in one’s life.
Of course, Logan 5 is mystified why anyone would ever want to Run, since you can have all earthly pleasures and then the chance to Renew by simply staying put. One would have to be crazy or ungrateful to Run. And so he and his partner Francis 7, alerted on a daily basis to the presence of Runners by the central computing system, gleefully seek out and terminate them. After termination, the routine is to clear their pockets before having the acid bath team move in.
But one night Logan 5 finds an odd ankh-shaped amulet in a dead Runner’s pocket. When he presents it to the central computing system that runs his world, it acts strangely, asking him if he knows what the symbol means, or if he has ever heard the word “Sanctuary” before. Professing ignorance, Logan 5 is given the assignment of infiltrating this group of ankh-toting Runners, and finding their Sanctuary, wherever it may be. Logan 5 is reluctant, so the computer gives him an prod—it drains all his years away, giving him the visible symbol that he is supposed to go to Carousel (a blinking light in his palm). Logan 5 is horrified—he had several years left to go before his turn on Carousel.
Successfully incentivized, he gets in touch with a girl he previously saw on the Circuit who wore the same ankh symbol on her necklace, but who refused his sexual advances. Jessica 6 at first does not believe a Sand Man could Run, but finally agrees to help him. Francis 7, not knowing of the assignment, pursues them relentlessly. It is clear that Jessica 6 is beginning to have feelings for Logan 5. At a critical moment, she refuses to turn back to the city, preferring to seek Sanctuary with him, even though she still has many years before her own Carousel date.
After numerous adventures, through which they discover that no Runner has ever actually made it out alive in the history of the city, Logan 5 and Jessica 6 exit the dome, blinking in the sunlight which they have never seen before. This world is unknown to them—rivers and rocks and heat and bugs and lizards. They reach an abandoned city—Washington, DC—which is overgrown with vegetation, and find one old man living with a troop of cats in the Capitol building.
Having never met anyone who is old, they are mesmerized by his wrinkles. He talks of his mother and father, and they are shocked to learn that his mother carried him in her womb and gave birth to him; shocked that his parents not only knew him, but raised him. The old man explains that the terms they see on the tombstones in the cemetery, “Beloved Wife” and “Beloved Husband” actually meant that a woman and a man loved each other, married each other, committed to live with each other for the rest of their lives, and had children together and raised them.
This is a tremendous jolt for the two refugees from the city. Eyes now open to a new way of being, Jessica 6 turns to Logan 5, and calls him Beloved Husband, and Logan 5 turns to Jessica 6 and calls her Beloved Wife . . . and love is reborn in the world once more.
The film ends predictably—Logan 5 is forced to kill Francis 7, who has attacked them, furious that Logan 5 deserted their bromance for the sake of Jessica. Logan and Jessica take the old man back to their domed city, to try and tell everyone what they know. They are initially mocked by all, but when they are taken into custody, the central computing system apparently cannot compute Logan’s report that there is no Sanctuary. The system unaccountably self-destructs, and the dazed denizens of the city emerge from its ruins. They meet the old man, and we are led to believe that all will be better than the existence they have been living to date.
The dystopia pictured in Logan’s Run might have been much less believable in 1976. In the harsh light of 2015’s culture, it seems downright eerie in its prescience. The film nails it: the key to losing one’s humanity is losing the ability to love--and the catalyst for losing the ability to love is the inability to see that love and sex must stay intertwined through commitment and family. When sex becomes divorced from commitment--when there are no more mothers and fathers, no more beloved husbands and wives, no more sons and daughters--what results is an empty existence of consumerism and pleasure-seeking and superficial appearances.
I found the following in a Modern Love column in the New York Times the week I saw Logan’s Run. The author, a middle-aged male player, who has written in other venues about his problems with women wanting a monogamous relationship and his vow never to have children, feels he has finally found love:
“It was amazing to see a familiar, funny face transfigured into something radiant, to sit side by side on the floor like kids after school reading her grade-school journals together, to lie curled in bed watching heat lightning flicker through the window, to find love and sex improbably intertwined. It was as miraculous and fleeting as the fusion of some exotic unstable element that can only exist for an instant, but at least now I know it’s theoretically possible.”
Love and sex “improbably” intertwined? And this intertwining “can only exist for an instant”? Trop triste.
Another from Modern Love:
“My boyfriend was committed to living his life according to strict intellectual principles, and for him, personal freedom was paramount. Love could not require constraint, foreclosure or deprivation. He argued that even though we planned a future together, we should always permit each other to do as we pleased, including dating other people.” (Riiiiiight. Didn’t end well for these two.)
“I hadn’t romanticized my first time. I never thought we were in love. I never expected good sex. I never expected to have feelings afterward. And I certainly didn’t expect to feel rejected. I thought if I did everything right, I could control the emotions involved in physical intimacy.” (Turns out she couldn’t.)
What a wretched bargain, this sexual freedom. Obfuscating the whole issue is the 21st century tendency to call sex “love,” because there is nothing beyond sex. So sex becomes a stand-in for the love that has become either incomprehensible or unattainable, or both. Here’s Miley Cyrus, deep in this very confusion:
“I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me.”
The glitterati approvingly call this attitude “a pan-sexual orientation.” Her parents must weep to know their daughter believes that someone who has sex with her body “loves” her. But if sex is all there is, I guess you feel like you need to call it “love.” After all, Harlow’s monkey babies thought that horrible figure made of wire was “mama.” You have to call it something, or you’d go mad.
Or you’d see that you were mad to believe such lies.
Beloved husband, beloved wife, beloved son, beloved daughter . . . the Lamanites got it right. (Jacob 3: 5-7) Paul had his own way of describing what happens when we turn from this vision of happiness:
“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves; who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections . . . without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” (Romans 1: 24-26, 31-32).
As we obliterate fidelity, sexual continence, and family, we make oh so probable the careless cruelty and empty existence of Logan’s world. What was seen afar off 40 years ago is on our doorstep today.
And allow me to wax feminist here at the end of these reflections. Whose vision is it to unbridle sexuality from any and all constraints, to dis-entwine sex from love, to disentangle oneself from any lingering after-effects of sex (such as children)? This is the vision of the corrupt and fallen masculinity we have allowed to grow like a Gadianton robber band in our midst. This is not what women want. This is not what all men want. But this is what a sizeable and powerful segment of men want. And this thing they want is nothing less than the destruction of us all.
Fight the patriarchy by loving your spouse, being sexually faithful to them, and bringing up your children loved and safe. Fight the patriarchy by keeping love alive in this world. Nancy Wilson of Heart perhaps put it best:
The Sky was dark this morning
When I raised my head
I stood at the window -
Darkness was my bane
Suddenly a sunbeam arch
Thrilled me to my weary heart
It was the prettiest thing I'd ever seen
I knew I had to keep my Love
Keep my Love alive
Keep my Love - Keep my Love live
Baby I want you to roll me
Hold me in your love
No more habits, promises and jive
Ever since I was a baby girl
Wanted one thing most in this world
It was to Keep My Love -
Keep My Love alive
Want to have an interesting Family Home Evening with your teenagers? Show them Logan's Run. I promise you the ensuing discussion will be an important one.
Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2015) "Logan's Run: A Retrospective Film Review," SquareTwo, Vol. 8 No. 3 (Fall 2015), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerLogansRun.html, accessed <give access date>.
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I. B. Kent Harrison
Valerie notes upfront that we are quite used to dystopian futures by now. That is true, but stories about them keep appearing. The recent book, "The Giver", came to mind immediately, although that seems to be a little more positive and uplifting than most such stories. I have been reading science fiction for 60 plus years now. I remember a story called "The Machine Stops" which was grim--people living in isolated apartments with no interaction. Another story, which fascinated me, was "...And Searching Mind", by Jack Williamson. It had ESP, space travel, suffocatingly benevolent robots, and a universal equation/theory that explained everything. There was love in this story--it wasn't dystopian--although Williamson did too good a job depicting his benevolent robots, and when they seem to win at the end, even though there are two loving couples, I felt it was a betrayal. In between I have read many other such stories of the future. Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" is a famous one. In thinking about this, I have the impression that most science fiction stories, of many types, are devoid of love and emotion. I suppose that reflects badly on us scientists. An exception comes to mind, "Semley's Necklace", by Ursula K. LeGuin. That uses the simple idea of time dilation from relativity, correctly understood, to create a short story that is heartbreaking. But is my impression correct? If so, what is it that makes sci-fi writers write depressing future stories instead of uplifting ones?
II. V.H. Cassler responds to B. Kent Harrison
You ask, "what is it that makes sci-fi writers write depressing future stories instead of uplifting ones?" I suggest it is because, in their own way, the authors are "seers."