Roscoe Lee Browne
1 Hr., 58 Mins.
Logan's Run April 2, 2020
he notion of utopia is fantastical — too subjective a thing to ever effectively function. So it isn’t a surprise when the “utopia” touted early in sci-fi chase thriller Logan’s Run (1976) reveals itself, very quickly, as an ultra-nightmarish dystopia. It’s a utopia only to the conditioned people unknowingly mandated to live in it. The film, a loose adaptation of the 1967 novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, is
set in 2274, hundreds of years after an unspecified apocalyptic event has wrecked the bulk of the Earth’s ecosystems. Most survivors subsequently moved into the environs of a giant-ass “city” splashed across the American landscape. It’s hermetically sealed by a bunch of opaque domes.
The society inside operates under a strict system most don't question. All inhabitants are disallowed from living past the age of 30; everything, including reproduction, is controlled by an all-knowing computer system. Everything citizens do, besides dying before they can experience a midlife crisis, revolves around pleasure, or at least things advertised to them as entertaining and fun. Without pause they shop, self-optimize, fuck to kill time. Allegedly, once they’ve been extinguished by a huge machine called the Carrousel, which 29-and-younger residents watch do its work from stadium seats as if mass murder were the Super Bowl, they will be reborn. Anyone who tries to run away (cleverly labeled a Runner) will be chased after and then shot to death by policemen called Sandmen.
Logan’s Run follows one Sandman, Logan 5 (Michael York), and his journey to anti-establishment clear-headedness. (He finds a connection to the outside world — said to be a wasteland best not to journey into — then gets unbearably curious.) His “run” ensues when he unofficially changes his status from devoted Sandman to truth-seeker; he builds a relationship with a woman, Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), who seems to know something about the beyond-the-dome world. They endeavor into the unknown together, all the while being chased by Logan’s erstwhile black-clad colleagues and getting their clothes artfully torn by a plethora of new landscapes. Logan and Jessica’s goalless adventure comes with otherworldly run-ins: a confrontation with a seemingly harmless robot in an arctic landscape; a promenade through decimated Washington, D.C., complete with a gawking session at the now-ivy-draped and dirtied Lincoln Memorial.
Dystopian fiction can only be as good as its world-building is cogent. Fortunately Logan’s Run, in spite of its visual camp (any helicopter shots are very-obviously just cameras soaring above miniaturized sets and matte paintings; sartorially it’s Jetsons-chic), is coherently built by screenwriter David Zelag Goodman and director Michael Anderson. They persuasively bring to the screen a purgatorially monoracial, emptily hedonistic, purposeless parallel universe. Though at least it seems as though sexuality isn’t socially ingrained in binaries.
The seriousness of the world-building and concepts is at odds with the look of the movie. It’s going, I think, for the chilly sci-fi of Forbidden Planet (1956) but more often is aestheticized like the goofy Moonraker (1979) mixed with the chintzy 1960s Batman series. It’s colorful but flat — curiously two-dimensional for a setting that is otherwise efficiently immersive. York and Agutter give toneless performances too — though maybe this was an intentional reflection of their characters being trapped in a fake-heaven in which they are conditioned to be uncurious for all their lives, still in the process of shaking off the generational tension that has for so long overwhelmed them.
It does come as a relief when later in the film, Logan and Jessica encounter an old-man survivor (a delightful Peter Ustinov), whose kindly hermit routine injects into the at-times humorously earnest movie some bracing levity. (The old man currently lives with an army of always-meowing cats in a dilapidated library; he even makes a T.S. Eliot reference.) It’s around this time that Logan’s Run — chiefly a silly movie that makes the most of a bunch of provocative and interesting ideas — reveals that although it’s built on some solemn stuff and seems to be taking itself too seriously, it actually isn’t on the latter front. Which means we don’t have to, either. B+