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Screenwriting 101: How LOGAN Earns Its Catharsis

By Marisa Dupras · March 28, 2017

WARNING: ENDING SPOILERS FOR LOGAN FOLLOW

There’s a lot to say about Logan and its well-crafted script. Perhaps most notably, Logan’s  bittersweet cathartic moment is expertly developed and incredibly satisfying as a result. Of course, this is as it should be. Catharsis is the ultimate payoff. Something to build towards carefully – bit by bit, page by page – over the span of an entire screenplay. Done right, and unleashed at just the right moment, there’s nothing else quite like it. 

For example…

Lying there stunned, pained, impaled. Dark red blood spewing from his chest. Tears prick at the corners of audience’s eyes when Laura sobs and says “no, no, no.” She holds Logan’s hand, and this time he doesn’t retract it like he did at Xavier’s burial. She calls him “daddy” which sends everyone into waterworks if they weren’t there already. Logan says “So this is what it feels like.” Logan changes as a character in this moment, which feels completely authentic to us. What did screenwriters James Mangold, Scott Frank, and Michael Green do to make this moment so satisfying to the audience?

  1. Much like a protagonist often refuses to take action in the beginning of their story, protagonists should also refuse their catharsis. Logan refuses to love Laura time and time again. It would be too easy and very unlike his character, if he just melted as soon as he is told that she is his daughter.  He clearly doesn’t like kids very much. Even if you didn’t already know that from the rest of the series, all the “get the fuck away from me” might have tipped you off. When Pierce and his henchman attack their hiding space, Logan even leaves Laura behind, saying, “She’s not our problem” to Xavier. Much later, at Xavier’s burial, Laura attempts to hold Logan’s hand, but he retracts it.  Time and time again Logan also refuses to take Laura to Eden.
  2. Gabriela and Xavier both plant the idea of loving Laura in Logan’s head. This method allows the thought to be planted in our minds as well. Xavier suggests that the settled family life is nice and that Logan should try to know what it feels like, which Logan denies sarcastically. Gabriela also plants the idea of family in Logan’s mind in her video. Referring to Laura, she says, “I love her. You may not love her, but she is your daughter.” Again, it would be too easy and unlike Logan if at that moment he just decided to love Laura, but the thought is like a seed that sprouts over time. 
  3. The movie shows the audience what Logan needs, a family who loves him, without Logan catching on to it yet. This is one of the reasons why the sequence where they help the Munson family and are taken in by them is so important. They have a pleasant moment with the family at dinner while the trio pretends that they are family themselves. Logan having to pretend that Xavier is his father and Laura is his daughter was crucial to his catharsis. Of course, he still represses the real emotion, but the audience gets a subtle hint that he may just yearn for a family the way Xavier suggested.
  4. Over time, Logan discovers how alike he and Laura are, and not just in a superficial way. Yes they both have claws and healing abilities, but that’s not enough for Logan to care. The more meaningful similarities were their life experiences and issues with morality. They’ve both been enhanced, and experimented on in a lab. They were both made for a purpose that they refuse to take part in. They both have trouble living with the fact that they’ve killed. These deep connections don’t come until much later in the movie, as they should, because it’s only natural that it takes time to open up to new people in such a vulnerable way. Especially two characters like Laura and Logan who are perhaps the most “stay out of my shit” characters in the world. This way, when the catharsis finally comes, it feels authentic.
  5. Lastly, Logan reveals the most vulnerable information of all to Laura just before the mutant children attempt to leave for Eden. He believes bad things will always happen to people he cares about. If you know about the whole franchise, you could see how he would believe that. This is why Logan keeps everyone at arm’s length, why he refuses to care. By admitting this, we understand that Logan wants to love Laura, but is scared to.

These were the steps taken to achieve Logan’s ultimate catharsis. He finally feels love for his daughter. The techniques of achieving a satisfying catharsis are subtle and often overlooked. It’s not something the writer wants you to be consciously aware of, but feel emotionally nonetheless. You can improve your own script by carefully observing these techniques in Logan.