An Identity Crisis in Wolverine

Hugh Jackman stars in a scene from the movie "The Wolverine." (CNS photo/Fox)
Hugh Jackman stars in a scene from the movie “The Wolverine.” (CNS photo/Fox)
In Marvel’s The Wolverine, we see Logan (or Wolverine, depending on how you like to refer to him) struggling with the issue that plagues many superheroes in their second solo movie outing: Are superpowers worth the sacrifice that comes along with having them? It’s been done over and over again, from Spider Man 2 to The Dark Knight, yet in The Wolverine it feels somehow fresh, deeper at times. Perhaps this is because in grappling with the issue of whether or not to keep his power, Logan also faces the ethical dilemma of whether or not to allow himself to be immortal.

In the movie, a rich Japanese businessman named Yashida, whom Logan rescued from the bombing of Nagasaki decades earlier, calls for him on his deathbed, under pretense of saying a final goodbye to the man who saved his life. But when Logan arrives in Japan, he is met with a different situation than he expected. Instead of just wishing to bid him farewell, Yashida offers Logan a chance to cast off the effects of his genetic mutation, to lose his healing factor and his immortality and simply lead a normal, mortal life. The catch, of course, is that in order to do this, Logan must pass the mutation on to someone else, and stick that person with the curse he knows an unending life to be. Yashida himself wants to be the one to claim this power, to prolong his life eternally rather than dying. But Logan denies him. “You don’t want what I’ve got,” he warns him, walking away.

In this moment, Logan makes a choice that would be difficult for most people to make — he chooses to let his old friend die rather than granting him the miserable and long existence that Logan has already suffered through. That is not to say that he kills Yashida, per se, but rather that he allows nature to run its course. It is clear in the film that Yashida has already elongated his life by any means he could afford. Yashida goes to Logan for the final push, trying to work against nature by subjecting himself to a transfer of Logan’s natural abilities, and he’s denied. Rather than cursing another with the torment Logan was born into, even if it means that he must have his friend’s death on his conscience, Wolverine refuses to give up his mutation.

It’s an interesting conundrum, certainly, but one that many people face every day in different forms — Wolverine’s dilemma is about moral questions surrounding death. We’ve discussed end-of-life issues on Busted Halo before, but to boil the issue down to a simple takeaway, Logan wasn’t wrong to leave Yashida to die naturally. He had already come to the end of his rope, even with much medical aid, and the only way he saw to stay alive would require tremendous sacrifice from both Logan and Yashida himself. Instead of taking such extreme measures, Logan opts instead to leave his friend’s life to nature and to God.

However, there comes a time in the film where, after Yashida’s funeral, Logan finds himself losing his healing factor (despite not agreeing to give it up for Yashida’s health). Upon discovering this, Logan sets off on a quest to find out how this ability was stripped from him, and to regain his waning mutant power. Why is it acceptable, then, for Logan to do this rather than give up the healing factor and lead a normal life?

The answer to this one is simple: choice. The healing factor is a natural part of Logan’s life — it is a genetic mutation he was born with, and to him it is just as much of a given in life as the sense of sight or hearing would be to us. Having that natural ability removed from him without his consent certainly merits his journey to recover it, even if doing so does return him to a state of seemingly unnatural immortality.

Furthermore, there is a message in The Wolverine that both transcends and unites both Logan and Yashida’s struggles with immortality. Toward the end of the movie, Logan is scolded for clinging so tightly to his immortality yet doing very little with it. He is told that his greatest mistake is believing that a life without end has no value; similarly, at one point Yashida claims that the only life that can have value is an endless one, because of all that can be accomplished by someone who can never die. Both are wrong. Every life has value, as Wolverine learns — it’s what each of us does with our time here on earth, as long or short as it may be, that makes a difference.