Tech by VICE

‘Logan’ Subtly Predicts Our Gritty Future of Climate Change and Big Agriculture

The latest Wolverine film is set in the year 2029, when water rights and job automation are still unsolved problems.

by Ben Sullivan
Mar 7 2017, 2:15pm

This post contains spoilers.

The X-Men franchise has long drawn parallels with the struggle of oppressed groups; its very conception was borne out of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s. Logan, the final part of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine trilogy, is no different, and is in fact almost culturally prophetic in certain scenes, including its depiction of a heavily-guarded border wall straddling the US and Mexico in its near-future interpretation of 2029.

But other, more environmental concepts subtly rendered during Logan struck me most heavily, despite their presence in the film not acting as plot devices (such as in 2014's Interstellar) but rather background noise; world-building elements that augment the sun-scorched scenes of the movie. To that end, Logan portrayed the dominance of Big Agriculture, dwindling land and water rights, and the impact of climate change on our environment.

From the candid imagery of the toppled water tower that was home to Charles Xavier, to the heat-blasted, arid car journey to North Dakota, the landscape in Logan is something akin to 2015's Mad Max, as all the while Logan and Xavier dream about their escape to the complete opposite of their waterless world—the ocean—on a Sunseeker yacht. The setting reeks of one scarred by a warming climate. When Xavier is later killed, Logan even buries the professor beside a lake, surrounded by luscious greenery. "Our boat…the Sunseeker," are Xavier's final words.

But Logan's environmental themes were brought together seamlessly, yet subtly, partway through the film when Logan had to help a family repair a burst water pipe that supplied their farmhouse with drinking water. Logan and the family's father, Will Munson, leave the house to venture to the water pipe, where it transpires that the Munson family doesn't even have legal access to it, despite it being their only source of clean water. These parallels are all too familiar to many real American families today.

Image: James Mangold - © 2017 Marvel. TM and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film

The pair journey through vast, GM-fuelled cornfields that are farmed by mammoth, automated agricultural machines working through the night—automated machines that have evidently displaced human workers. Perhaps Munson was previously a farmer; the viewer never finds outs. But the character portrays clear animosity toward the towering machines, animosity that is already a reality for real workers replaced by robots.

The gigantic, engineered corn itself is in such high demand because corn syrup is a main ingredient in the brand of energy drink needed to suppress mutants. Earlier in the film, a convenience store advert is seen for this energy drink; two packs of eight cans for $18.99. Opium for the masses is neither cheap nor ethical.

When Logan and Munson finally arrive at the burst water pipe, a crew of cowboys show up—the new owners of the land that the water is drawn from. They're not happy about Munson trying to fix the pipe, and guns are drawn. Is water this precious in 2029? Of course, the battle is won, with Logan's help, but the war is in part lost due to Logan and Munson's quest from the farmhouse. The entire Munson family is massacred in their absence.

Other nods to expected technological advances and even contemporary realities add grit to the film. Logan works as an on-demand chauffeur, finding customers via a ride-hailing service not unlike Uber. He's struggling to make money to pay for Charles Xavier's medication, though, and is shown working long hours and sleeping in his car. These imaginings are not fictitious.

Image: James Mangold - © 2017 Marvel. TM and © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film

A self-driving truck scene magnificently depicts America's future highways, and even touches on issues surrounding the road rights of autonomous vehicles (self-driving trucks take priority in Logan). Drones also make an appearance, acting in a surveillance capacity.

All of these elements add tangible realism to what is essentially a superhero film, and director James Mangold has obviously succeeded in drawing the audience's attention to the ethical issues surrounding basic human rights, and scientific and technological developments.

Ultimately, however, perhaps the most distressing scientific prediction of Logan's 2029 is that in this imagined near-future there is no cure for dementia. Even Charles Xavier, once the most powerful man on the planet, is demoted to a weak, elderly man by the degenerative disease.

Rather emotionally, basic human requirements by Xavier force Logan to fulfil his superhero role in other, less glamorous ways, like helping Xavier to the toilet, preparing his meals, and ensuring he is taking his medication every day. "This is what life looks like," says Xavier. "People love each other."

Subscribe to pluspluspodcast, Motherboard's new show about the people and machines that are building our future.