After seeing the previous abysmal Wolverine movie, I almost didn’t go to this one. I am just so tired of these superhero sequels that are boring trash. The first ones are often very good, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Spiderman, and the sequels tend to be typical Hollywood stupidity: Bigger more ludicrous action sequences and many many more villains, too many villains. Yeah, that’s the ticket!
Well, not The Wolverine. This one is far better than the first, not just in terms of interesting action but in terms of character and personal drama. The premise is that the Wolverine is hiding out in the forest, grumbling about how he doesn’t want to be the Wolverine, I think because it only ended with him killing his beloved. Okay, makes for a reluctant hero, I guess, which is more interesting. But anyway a Japanese chick in a sexy Japanese school girl’s outfit and a samurai sword tracks him down to bring him to a billionaire Japanese businessman, Yashida, who is dying. Turns out, Wolverine, whose real name is Logan, saved Yashida when Logan was a WWII POW in a Japanese camp near Nagasaki, and Yashida was a guard. It was the fateful bombing of Nagasaki with “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb.
So Yashida has spent his company’s millions developing a way to free Logan from his immortality, make him able to die as he would like. To be able to love, marry, have kids, grow old and die with his loved ones by his side. This is what makes the theme interesting. Because Yashida knows that somehow Logan feels that his immortality is miserable, that “eternity can be a curse.” Logan is described as a Ronin, a samurai without a master, and he’s “destined to live forever with no reason to live.” Yashida says, “You seek what all soldiers do, an honorable death, and an end to your pain.” His pain being evidently his loneliness because as another says, everyone he knows dies, not just through murder, but naturally, as he lives on well past them.
So the Wolverine’s journey is one of discovering meaning and purpose after facing the despair of loneliness and meaninglessness of immortality. This is a quite rich theme to explore and is what makes the movie rise above with transcendence. Logan is a man with gifts to help others but who is a selfish man wanting to be left alone. He has lost the only thing that gave him hope, his beloved Jean from a past movie.
So he is like the Existentialist Superhero who has faced the angst of looking into the Abyss and realizing that life has no meaning because everything dies and is gone and forgotten. So the very thing that all of us would consider the most desire blessing, to live forever, is actually a curse if it is not shared in community, if it is not used to save others.
Here is what I find fascinating about the movie…
SPOILER ALERT: The ultimate villain of the movie is not the mutant Viper, a sexy poisonous mutant who seeks to kill Wolverine, but the very man whom Logan saved, Yashida. Yashida is old and dying and wants take what Wolverine does not want, his immortality so he can live forever to pursue his selfish goal of power. This is akin to the Garden of Eden, where God banishes the primeval couple because if they were to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in their evil state, there is no end to the amount of destruction that would result.
Two selfish loner men, one who is good and one who is bad fighting over eternal life. When they are locked in a battle at the end of the movie, Yashida tells Logan that Logan has decided that “life without end can have no meaning,” but Yashida has concluded that “It’s the only life that can have meaning.”
Here’s the tricky part. Usually, you put the philosophy that is destructive into the mouth of the villain and we see where that belief ends in terms of consequences. In this case, it might be that those show seek to find eternal life are destructive. But sometimes, the villain is partly right and the hero has to learn from the villain what has been twisted. So in this case, Logan actually learns that he is wrong, and that his eternal life does have meaning if it finds purpose and redemption in serving others instead of solitary selfishness, like the villain would prefer.
This reminds me of a very powerful argument for the meaning of life being found in there being an afterlife. If there is no eternal life, if we all are food for worms, if all we have is what happens in this life, then this life truly has no meaning or purpose, and we are all fools wasting our time. No matter what we think or do, no matter what meaning we try to create or find, there is none transcendent of living itself, and all our “meaning” or “purpose” is a self delusion, created by us to make us feel better.
But only if there is a transcendent eternal life can this life have objective true meaning. Things in this life can only have real meaning if they are rooted in something transcendent to this life. If there is no afterlife, then even eating, drinking and being merry is a waste of time because in the end you are nothing, less than zero, and not even a blip of existence on the timeline of eternity. This life has no real objective meaning whatsoever if there is no eternal life.
A side note I find interesting is that Yashida is a reflection of a very real mentality in some of the older Japanese generation that was saved from total destruction by the West, which they continued to hate even after they lost the War. These few Imperialists still believe in their racist superiority and if in power, would do all over again what they attempted in 1941. It shows you that saving evil people doesn’t necessarily change them into good people. Another insightful moral truth.