by Ken Sanes
Finally, there is at least one more set of elements that will yield riches when explored. Here, we discover that the story of Logan's Run bears striking similarities to stories in the Old and New Testament. There are two stories in particular that it draws from -- the depiction of the fall in Genesis and the depiction of Jesus in the New Testament.
In the first part of the movie, Logan and Jessica live in a protected world of timeless innocence and pleasure, in which their lives are governed by a higher power in the form of the computer. But Logan is then exiled into the world of nature and suffering because the computer wants to find and crush a rebel movement that is a threat to its power. He is guided to the outside by Jessica, who is one of the rebels and who tries to tempt him early in the movie into seeing the falseness of the life they live, when she questions whether anyone has ever really been renewed.
It doesn't require much translation and reshuffling of elements to see that the movie has taken the story of the fall and re-invented it, to tell us a new myth about our own destiny. As in the story of the fall, this new myth involves a man and woman who are exiled from a kind of paradise into nature and history as a result of a rebellion against a higher power. The movie even has Jessica recoil from a lizard when they are outside, in a reference to the passage in Genesis in which God says that enmity will be put between the serpent and Eve. (1)
But after Logan and Jessica are outside and they decide to head for the ruins of Washington D.C., the story changes and the movie begins to tell a variation on the story of the New Testament, in which Logan bears striking similarities to Jesus. If the reader will recall, the pair go to the ruins of Washington -- the Jerusalem of America -- because they are in search of sanctuary. What they find is a place that looks a lot like a Jewish sanctuary, a large temple-like building (the ruins of the Capitol) with sublime words written on it, where the secular religion of America was once practiced, based on democracy rather than dictatorship. It is occupied by a grandfatherly old man with a white and gray beard, who is both childlike and wise; who recites riddle-like poetry that has no obvious relevance to the subjects at hand; and who teaches Logan and Jessica how to lead a moral life. Although the movie would never admit it, the old man is clearly a disguised, secularized, depiction of an emanation of God.
As a result of what he learns from the old man and as a result of Jessica's efforts to get him to recognize the true human reality of birth, marriage and procreation, Logan then makes a decision. As a result, he becomes a prophet or savior who will go back to the domed city and lead his people to freedom and righteousness.
The people he leads to this new life aren't the ancient Hebrews, but the decadent pagans of the Roman Empire (which could include the ancient Hebrews living a pagan life). As described in the essay Holocaust as Metaphor, the domed city is clearly a disguised depiction of ancient Rome (and Greece), at least ancient Rome as portrayed by movies and television, even as it is also a depiction of contemporary America. The orgy room is the Roman orgies, just as it is also our own culture of sexual license. The exercise room and hot tub shown in the movie are the Roman gymnasiums, just as they are scenes from contemporary singles complexes and health clubs. The plaza-like spaces are the open forums and plazas of Rome, just as they are also contemporary malls. And carousel, in which the audience chants "Renew! Renew!", is the gladiator games, although it also calls up the image of Roman mystery religions. The draped and toga-like clothing some of the inhabitants wear also calls up images of Rome.
The movie's underlying meaning thus begins to take shape. Our pleasure-seeking society, it says, is like the decadence of ancient Rome and also like a prolonged childhood. Logan is the son who grows up, and, he is the Son of God, who leads the children of this American Rome of the future from the childlike decadence of a Roman mother-goddess* to the adulthood and righteousness of God the Father. As the first Adam, he falls into nature and history. As the second Adam, he leads the rest of humanity into nature and history, as well. Along the way, he journeys through the wilderness, preaches a gospel of a life of righteousness beyond the fallen world people know, is shunned by his people, and is "crucified" in the surrogation chair, until he liberates his people. Just in case we missed the message, the symbol of the rebel movement is an ankh -- an Egyptian cross commonly viewed as a symbol of eternal life. Logan uses it as a key to get out the door that will ultimately lead him and Jessica to the new world, outside. (2)
Of course, this is, once again, an altered version of the original. It takes elements from the story of Jesus (and from the story of Paul, who brings Christianity to the gentiles) and incorporates them. It uses these images of Jesus in other parts of the movie, as well. For example, there are all those 30 year-olds, crucified in the air in carousel, who will not be reborn. There is the computer that will have to die so its children can live. And there is the green world, once dead but now reborn.
It also incorporates other ancient images and ideas. For example, there are all kinds of associations in the movie to the battles depicted in the Bible in which an effort is made to turn the Jews away from pagan religion, and toward God the father, as well as away from wickedness and toward righteousness. With this symbolism, Logan's Run becomes a humane version of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which the wicked city, with its perverse pleasures, is destroyed but most of the people live. It is the story of Moses, whose people revert to the worship of the golden calf and have to be set back on God's path. And it draws from the fights recorded in the Bible against the religion of Canaan, which involved human sacrifice and ritual prostitution, and the worship of Baal, the god of fertility who dies and is reborn.
At the same time, the city seems to have the characteristics that link it with Greek myths about rebirth and the underworld. Here, the lovers are trapped in an underworld governed by a mad Goddess with magic powers, who requires they be sacrificed. Logan and Jessica escape by winding their way downward, through its passageways, until, at the end, they are lifted up a great distance by an elevator, to the mundane world of the surface.
As noted, all of these elements are incorporated into the movie, to tell a new myth. Putting it all together, this new myth is about people trapped in a supernatural place -- a kind of lair -- that is governed by a power much like a malevolent goddess and disguised to look like a paradise. Inside, they are mesmerized by false ideas; they participate in ritual orgies, and are ultimately sacrificed in a ritual of death and rebirth. But two of the prisoners make their way out to the mundane world of the surface, on a path that will lead them (back) to the religion of God the father. They encounter a wise man -- a prophet or angel or divine manifestation -- who teaches them the way to lead a moral life that is in tune with the nature they were given. Logan then becomes a prophet who returns to the goddess's domain to tell the inhabitants it is time to cease their pagan orgies and human sacrifice, and cease playing out the ritual of death and rebirth. It appears he will be sacrificed but, at the last minute, punishment is transferred to the true guilty one. He then leads his people out of their state of exile, to the surface and to their true selves.
Like many other myths, this one shows us characters who travel between three primary realms: they escape a false heaven (which is also a false paradise); journey through an underworld as they go through the bowels of the city, and emerge into the mundane world of the outside.
The reason the symbolism of the Old and New Testament is so essential to this story is because it represents a right and a wrong way of life based in truth and falsehood, and calls on humanity to take the former. Actually, the Bible (at least the Old Testament) represents at least three ways of living. There is the childlike innocence of Adam and Eve before the fall into history. After the fall into history, there is righteousness, which means living by God's commandments, and there is wickedness, which includes Adam and Eve's sin, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the pagan religions of Canaan. To create its new myth, the movie combines innocence and wickedness in the image of the inhabitants of the city: they live the way they do because, in their innocence, they have been misled into doing so. In effect, they are in a caricature of paradise: trapped in an underworld disguised to look like heaven. Their actions are depicted not as evil but as misdirected, immature, and a falling away from the path of the true life, which is pretty much the perspective of contemporary psychology.
Logan's Run constructs this myth in order to offer us a theme that is commonly found in Western literature and other forms of fiction and nonfiction: it tells us we have to leave false paradises and go on the journey through history if we are to become fully human. The savior in this case carries not the message of a true heaven, but of the world humanity must live in so it can win a higher freedom.
To bring us this message, the movie takes social constructionism and uses it to "deconstruct" what it sees as the false path, exposing the illusions and false claims of contemporary life. But unlike many forms of social constructionism, it doesn't offer us a form of relativism since it holds out the promise of a true reality beyond illusion. This is an essential element of all argument, of course -- showing that the opposing viewpoint is based on illusion, while one's own is true. But, as this essay will describe in the last section, works of fiction like Logan's Run create a fictional version of reality that makes it seem as if we are discovering this truth for ourselves. They create an illusion that intends to reveal what is really truth and illusion.
As a popular product for a secular audience, Logan's Run never openly depicts its higher truth as an expression of Jewish and Christian ethics. But the figure that is left out -- Jehovah -- is clearly the central player, at least so long as we look at the movie as a myth or religious story. The fact that the symbol of freedom for the characters is a cross that is commonly seen as representing eternal life, is one of many keys that tells us we are seeing an essentially religious story, a form of ethical monotheism in which the role of God has been discretely edited out. It seems that in giving us its thoughts about the central dilemmas of our age, the movie has returned to some ancient ideas and discovered there is new life in them after all.
(1) Revised Standard Edition
(2) Here is one of a number of references to the ankh in the Encyclopedia Mythica, which will provide an idea of the associations to the ankh that the movie was drawing from. It is by Cecille Soberano:.
"Found widely in Egyptian art, the ankh has come to symbolize life after death. Originally an Egyptian hieroglyphic representing the womb with its looped top, its meaning is related to matters concerning life and death, or rather, Eternal Life ("Nem Ankh"). In art, especially that depicting funeral ceremonies, their gods and goddesses are shown clutching the ankh by its loop as if it were a key. In this manner, it is believed that the ankh would open the gates of death on to immortality."
(Click "Search" and then type in "ankh" to find the references.)
In the first part of the movie, which incorporates elements of Genesis, the ankh might refer in some way to God's concern that Adam and Eve would eat of the tree of life, and acquire eternal life. In the second part, it is part of the semi-subliminal religious message that a life of righteousness will lead to eternal life. It can also be seen merely as a symbol of the true life Logan is heading toward and as an ironic symbol, since Logan is a savior who will take humanity not to eternal life but to the mundane life of work and history.