X Men’s Jewish roots and rich cui­sine

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - STEPHEN APPLEBAUM to­gether] and be part of a kind of

ITHINK THERE is some kind of de­sire for the real,” says the film di­rec­tor James Man­gold, suck­ing on an elec­tronic cig­a­rette in a suite at Clar­idge’s. We are in “trou­bling times”, he sug­gests, “when we’re all, in a sense, drinking in the same me­dia, eat­ing the same food prod­ucts, swal­low­ing the same pills, lis­ten­ing to the same top-10 mu­sic. We’re in grave dan­ger of be­ing mass-pro­grammed and I think movies play a huge role in it, es­pe­cially fran­chise pop-culture movies.”

This is Man­gold’s way of claim­ing that his lat­est film, Lo­gan — which re­unites him with Hugh Jack­man, for the Hol­ly­wood star’s fi­nal out­ing as the adaman­tium-clawed su­per­hero Wolver­ine (Lo­gan is his civvy name) — is not only dif­fer­ent from any other X-Men movie, but from all other re­cent comic book block­busters.

It’s 2029, and Charles Xavier aka Pro­fes­sor X (Pa­trick Ste­wart), Lo­gan’s men­tor, is holed-up, bed­bound, in a rust­ing, toppled-over wa­ter- tower, prone to seizures that turn his brain into an un­sta­ble weapon of mass de­struc­tion.

Lo­gan, mean­while, is a drunk who scrapes a liv­ing as a limo driver in or­der to pro­cure pills for his ail­ing and em­bit­tered friend. When a young mu­tant girl (im­pres­sive new­comer Dafne Keen), Laura, on the run from a Men­gele-like sci­en­tist (Richard E Grant), un­ex­pect­edly en­ters their lives, the three hit the road. As you’d ex­pect from the writer-di­rec­tor of such films as Walk the Line and Girl, In­ter­rupted, which earned Os­cars for Reese Wither­spoon and An­gelina Jolie, re­spec­tively, the film has heart and in­tel­li­gence.

“I cer­tainly, and I think Hugh Jack­man, didn’t want to go back [af­ter do­ing The

Wolver­ine anaes­thetis­ing of the culture,” says Man­gold, who grew up in New York, son of Jewish artist Sylvia Pli­mack Man­gold, renowned for her land­scape paint­ings. She mar­ried min­i­mal­ist artist, Robert Man­gold, and their son James iden­ti­fies as “half-Jewish”. Ex­pand­ing, he says: “You know, you pay your $13 and you see a movie, and for two hours you’re anaes­thetised and you for­get your life, and then you come out and you for­get the movie.”

Cre­ated by comic-book gi­ants Stan Lee (born Stan­ley Martin Lieber) and il­lus­tra­tor Jack Kirby (Ja­cob Kurtzberg), the X-Men first ap­peared in 1963, and of­ten fea­tured nar­ra­tives haunted by the Holo­caust, its spec­tre felt as a fear that a sim­i­lar fate could one day be­fall mu­tants. In 1978, read­ers learned that Charles’s friend turned neme­sis, Mag­neto, had been in Auschwitz as a child. This was the start­ing point for the first film in the X-Men fran­chise, in 2000, di­rected by Bryan Singer.

Jewish and gay, Singer was ob­sessed, grow­ing up, with the Holo­caust and made his feel­ings of ex­clu­sion part of the first two films. “What bet­ter way [to do it] than in a gi­ant, ac­tion, sum­mer-event movie,” he told me at the time. “I could think of no bet­ter place to spill out one’s own per­sonal prob­lems and foist them on to the world. And for that, I apol­o­gise.”

By touch­ing upon “all kinds of big­otry – racial, re­li­gious or even sex­ual — [Singer] el­e­vated those early films and made them about some­thing,” says Man­gold. “I cer­tainly wanted to do that in Lo­gan and, to try and keep things fresh, I moved the metaphor to the per­se­cu­tion of refugees and im­mi­grants, and tried to make it feel like our he­roes were essen­tially a fam­ily with­out a home.”

Singer had been adopted, and iden­ti­fied with the root­less su­per­hero’s quest to un­cover his own ori­gins. Man­gold was drawn to Lo­gan’s “scep­ti­cism about celebrity and the way su­per­heroes are turned into deities, and even the way they mar­ket them­selves. His am­biva­lence about be­ing a hero — what is a hero? — I thought was re­ally key.”

The film’s down­beat, melan­choly tone, says Man­gold, re­flects “how Lo­gan feels about the world”. Do you feel the same, I ask? “Ah,” he says, tak­ing a drag. “I’m not ex­cited by what is go­ing on now, po­lit­i­cally. Hardly. I con­nect with, and prob­a­bly agree with, his essen­tially pes­simism about mankind. He doesn’t want to help [the girl] be­cause he feels that, at best, he may just be de­lay­ing the in­evitable. I re­spond to the re­al­ism of his point of view. And while some might consider it ni­hilis­tic, I look around the world right now and I ac­tu­ally feel like it’s hardly a pro­jec­tion.”

Lo­gan’s con­science is weighed down by the vi­o­lence he has done and the lives he’s taken, even though those peo­ple were evil. And Man­gold was de­ter­mined view­ers would feel both the bru­tal­ity of the vi­o­lence and its con­se­quences. He wants to en­sure that the au­di­ence gets un­der the skins of all the char­ac­ters, not just those they sym­pa­thise with, and adds: “I’m more trou­bled by the vi­o­lence that seems to ex­ist in films that we al­low our 10-year-olds to watch. We’re OK with chil­dren un­der 13 watch­ing build­ings fall on peo­ple, and some­one with au­to­matic weapons mow­ing down a crowd. As long as we don’t see too much of the colour red, we’re some­how OK.

“I’m more com­fort­able mak­ing a film in which the vi­o­lence has very real im­pli­ca­tions for the very frag­ile flesh that holds us to­gether.”

Lo­gan “was a very earnest at­tempt to be earnest”, he says. This sets it apart from many other su­per­hero block­buster films which, Man­gold ar­gues, “have be­come less movies and more plat­forms for cross-pro­mo­tional mar­ket­ing. They still have in­ter­est­ing themes. . . but there is an ab­sence of mean­ing, be­cause mean­ing is threat­en­ing to peo­ple and makes it harder to sell toys. Be­cause the sec­ond a movie takes a po­si­tion, it is in dan­ger of alien­at­ing some­body, of mak­ing some­body an­gry.

“The un­for­tu­nate re­al­ity of cap­i­tal­ism is that some­times what we get when we’re try­ing to please ev­ery­body is some­thing that is anal­o­gous to a re­ally bad buf­fet: just a lit­tle some­thing for ev­ery­body, but not good.”

Lo­gan, on the other hand, is a haute cui­sine din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, whose top-qual­ity in­gre­di­ents should leave any­one look­ing for some­thing thought­ful and ex­cit­ing feel­ing com­fort­ably sated.

Lo­gan was re­leased on Wed­nes­day

It feels like our he­roes are a fam­ily with­out a home’

Dafne Keen and Hugh Jack­man in Lo­gan; (be­low) Jack­man with James Man­gold

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

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