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Logan's Run: The Story

by Ken Sanes

In 1976, Hollywood came out with a movie titled Logan's Run, which offered a vision of the future as a false paradise. In the movie, humanity is portrayed as having destroyed the earth's ecosystem by the 23rd century, through war, overpopulation and pollution, and retreated into a high-tech city enclosed in domes, full of futuristic buildings and public spaces that look like something out of a contemporary shopping mall. Inside, the inhabitants devote themselves to a life of indulgence while a computer with a vaguely seductive female voice controls the city and produces everything they need to live. They know nothing of the outside world, nor do they have any idea how to operate the machines that serve them. As in many similar works, the characters are portrayed as being much like children, dependent on the central computer to shelter them in their gilded cage.

But the characters aren't only separated from the nature outside the city. They are also separated from the natural processes of life. They are incubated in nurseries, rather than being born, and they neither marry nor know their children. It is only natural, in their eyes, for sex to be purely a form of entertainment, unconnected to intimacy or procreation.

Nor do they know anything of the natural process of aging. Because space is limited in the city, the computer simply does away with everyone on their 30th birthday. To lead these lambs willingly to their slaughter, it has given them a ritual and a myth: at the age of 30 everyone participates in carousel and has a chance to be "renewed" -- born again.

Carousel is the ultimate rite of despair and hope. As the ritual begins, the 30 year-old victims stand in the center of a giant auditorium-in-the-round, wearing white death masks that make this ordered world look like a high-tech version of something out of the dark ages. They are then spun around on a circular moving floor until they float into the air. Still circling, but now suspended in mid-air, they move their limbs in a death ballet as they explode one at a time. Meanwhile, an audience of those who are not-yet 30 are packed into the stands, cheering and screaming with excitement "Renew! Renew!"

But not everything is so perfectly controlled. The city also has its version of a slum and a prison, in a dark and dilapidated section isolated from the rest, where violent and rebellious children live lives of barbarism, and kill anyone of their kind older than 15. In addition, the city has a rebel movement, which has created an underground railroad for "runners" -- 30 year-olds who choose to flee rather than putting their faith in the false promise that they will be reborn in carousel. The rebel movement supposedly gives runners a way out of the city, so they can escape to a place of safety referred to as sanctuary, although no one has ever actually come back from sanctuary to tell about it. Unfortunately, most runners never get that far; instead, they are stalked and killed by the computer's police force, a privileged elite of human enforcers referred to as sandmen.

Even if the reader hasn't seen Logan's Run, he or she will probably have already surmised that this false paradise will not endure, after the plot has had a chance to thicken. The snake in this case turns out to be the computer itself, which decides it will have to send a sandman out into the world beyond the city to find and destroy sanctuary, to end what it sees as a threat to its existence. To do so, it speeds up the "life clock" of the sandman Logan Five (played by Michael York), until he prematurely reaches the age of 30, and instructs him to run so the rebels will direct him to sanctuary. Once there, he is to destroy it. Perhaps in an effort to motivate Logan to run for his life, instead of staying in the hope that he can be reborn, the computer also reveals a truth to him that he had wondered about but never really believed: no one had ever been renewed in carousel.

With a female companion named Jessica, who is a member of the rebel movement, Logan, the runner, will now go on a journey in which he will overcome a series of physical threats and challenges. He will also go through an internal change in which everything he once saw as positive will become abhorrent to him, and realities the computer had kept hidden will come into clear view. Complicating his journey will be another sandman and former friend -- Francis Seven -- who will follow him with the intent of executing him for being a runner. 

As Logan and Jessica make their escape, one of their first stops is a hiding place where the rebels will show them how to get out of the city, on the route to sanctuary. To get to the rebel hiding place, Jessica takes Logan to a secret door, which is located in a place called The Love Shop, where the inhabitants of the city gather for sex orgies, as they breathe in the vapors of a mind-altering drug. Once this would have seemed to Logan as a place of amusement. Now, on the run, and with the knowledge that the city is founded on mass murder, the orgy room seems like a place of madness. As the two make their way through it, nude bodies writhe in ecstasy and besiege them on all sides, inviting them to lose themselves in pleasure.

Escaping this mass of humanity, the two go out the secret door into a forgotten part of the city, that is dark and unkempt, behind the high-tech walls. Suddenly, the mall-like world Logan has known all his life, with its plaza-like spaces and cultivated plantings, disappears. In its place, the pair find themselves traveling down a long flight of metal stairs and a dimly lit hall, surrounded by bare walls and junk.

In quick order, they survive an encounter with suspicious rebels; they get directions from the rebels on how to get out (head even further down into lost areas of the city); and they escape invading sandmen. They then continue their descent, winding their way through the labyrinthine bowels of the city. A key, shaped like an Egyptian ankh, gets them through a door that blocks their route, as the other sandman pursues from behind. Soon they pass giant aquatic tanks, green with algae, that were apparently once used to breed food from the sea.

Finally, having apparently gone as far down as they can, Logan and Jessica are lifted up a great distance by an elevator platform into a place covered with ice. Here, the two discover the fate of all the runners who fled to "sanctuary" before them -- the runners were frozen by a confused robot (1) that once had the job of freezing food from the sea. As the robot explains, giving us the history of the city's turn into isolation and mass murder in a single phrase -- "The other food stopped coming and they started," they being the runners. For every runner before them, sanctuary, it appears, meant being turned into a frozen dinner for a meal that would never arrive.

Escaping the prospect of being fresh frozen, Logan and Jessica emerge through a cavelike opening into the outside world, which is once again habitable and overflowing with nature. They look at the bright sun, uncertain what it is, a future Adam and Eve expelled from their high-tech paradise into the world of the outside.

Soon they discover what it means to be out in nature. They are exposed to the elements; they feel lost, and they suffer physical discomfort. But they also begin to discover the freedoms and pleasures of being on their own. As they swim in the nude, they discover that the crystal implanted in their left palms (as it is for everyone in the city), which normally emanates a colored light that shows their age, has gone blank. At last, they are free of the computer, which now has no control over their "life clock." Immediately after making this discovery, they make love for the first time, in an act of intimacy rather than random sex.

Soon the pair see the ruins of Washington D.C. in the distance, with the Washington Monument towering over it. Hoping it is sanctuary or, at least, a place with people, they head into the ruined city, and encounter what appears to be its only inhabitant: an old man (played by Peter Ustinov), who lives in what is left of the Capitol building.

Just as they discovered nature, now, through the old man, they discover human nature, namely the reality of birth, marriage, aging and death, which the computer had kept hidden from them. Jessica touches the old man's wrinkles, having never before seen anyone over 30. They look at a photograph of his youth and hear stories about his dead parents, as they take the first steps toward understanding that coupling, raising children and growing old -- not an extended childhood and quick death -- is the natural order of life.

Finally, Logan dispatches the other sandman, who was still on their trail, to his own private carousel, and they bury him, so they become participants themselves in the cycle of life and death. Logan, Jessica and the old man then return to the city to bring the truth of life and death and the outside world to its inhabitants. On the way, Logan and Jessica marry, repeating words they saw on tombstones in a graveyard.

"So people stayed together for this feeling of love. They would live and raise children and be remembered," says Jessica, repeating what she has learned from the old man.

"I think I'd like that, Logan, don't you?"

"Um. Um hu. Why not," Logan responds. (Needless to say, dialogue isn't one of the movie's strong points.)

"Beloved husband," she tells him.

"Beloved wife," he responds. (2)

Arriving at the city, the couple make their way back inside by swimming through underwater vents, as the old man, who can't make it through the vents, waits outside for them to bring the inhabitants to meet him. Once again, Logan finds himself inside the high-tech city. As the inhabitants are going into carousel, walking through one of those large, mall-like plazas, Logan stands above them on a balcony, a mad prophet, trying to convince them that everything they have believed is a lie.

"No," he screams, as the inhabitants stop and turn toward him to see what is going on. "Don't go in there. You don't have to die. Well no one has to die at 30. You can live! Live! Live and grow old. I've seen it. She's seen it.

"Well look -- look -- look. It's clear," he screams, as he holds up his left palm to show them the blank crystal.

Laughter comes out of the crowd as they turn away and continue going into carousel.

Next, the voice of computer fills the space, naming the group of 30 year-olds who will "participate" in carousel that day:

"Last day: Capricorn 29s. Year of the city 2274. Carousel begins."

Finally, Jessica begins to scream at the crowd: "No. Don't go. Listen to him. He's telling the truth. We've been outside. There's another world outside. We've seen it," she screams, as she is grabbed by sandmen.

"The life clocks are a lie. Carousel is a lie. There is no renewal," Logan screams, as he is grabbed, as well.

Logan now finds himself in "surrogation," a debriefing in which the computer will draw his story from him through what look like holographic image surrogates, as he suffers through the ordeal, confined to a chair. During the interrogation, the computer learns that its facts have been wrong and there is no sanctuary, upon which it has one of those classic (and never believable) science fiction nervous breakdowns caused by the inability to deal with contradiction. Between that and the subsequent firing of a gun aimed at Logan by a sandman as he is escaping, which hits a part of the central computer room, and Logan's intentional firing at the computer, the entire system is destroyed. Things start exploding all over the city and large chunks of stone fly in all directions, as the city and its walls are presumably destroyed. The young inhabitants flee from the destruction, making their way passed the walls that no longer contain them and out into the world, where they see old age standing before them, and crowd around to see and touch it.

Logan's Run isn't unique in telling a story like this. In fact, it is one of a great many works of science fiction that repeat these same elements. Some, such as the short story, "The Machine Stops," and the novel, The City and the Stars, are so similar to each other and to Logan's Run, we seem to be looking at a line of influence. Many others (which also may be a part of this line of influence) mix and match some elements of these stories with others, to give us a number of different kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction.

But Logan's Run does a particularly good job in the way it employs the elements of meaning that are common to these stories, which makes it a good starting point for trying to understood what these stories express about our perception of the world. Lets look at these elements, one at a time, and, ourselves, plumb the depths of the city.

Go to Part Two

or to Logan's Run Homepage


(1) The robot actually describes itself as part human, part machine, and something more than the two.

(2) A few interjections by the old man have been left out.