EXCLUSIVE: R-Rating and Violence in ‘Logan’ Defended by Mangold, Jackman, Stewart and Kinberg
[Published at Awards Circuit] 2017 Berlin International Film Festival: During the first press conference of “Logan” after its world premiere at The Berlinale, Mangold, stars Sir Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman and producer Simon Kinberg justified the film’s violent nature. Mangold made an important distinction between making a film and watching a film, highlighted the paradox of some of the brutal content on cable television shows, the hypocrisy of portraying mass-genocide in superhero and action films with a PG-13 rating while condemning films that show the actual consequences and the important fact that violence has severe consequences, and the importance of parents’ discretion in what they decide to let their children watch.
If you have not been living under a rock over the past month, you might have heard that “Logan” is garnering some serious critical and (already in its opening weekend) financial success. However, there is a certain, albeit only a small group of critics and viewers that did not enjoy the film. The majority of their consensus criticized the film mainly for its violence; many of those that did not enjoy the film found its violence gratuitous, sickening, offensive, promoting sadism and making it fun and even encouraging violence for children. This backlash highlights an important disconnect and a hypocrisy paradigm, if you will, with both viewers and filmmakers in the entertainment industry, wherein everyone has collectively, unconsciously and simultaneously condemned the portrayal of violence in film and television while also condoning it, thereby creating a conflicting cognitive dissonance. This is leading to a criterion shift in the industry, and the cast and crew behind “Logan” passionately confront this issue head-on in the film, and are continuing to back up the portrayal of the brutality of human nature and its perennial consequences throughout promotion of the film.
What director James Mangold has consistently emphasized throughout the film’s press tour is as follows: “I didn’t want to make a more violent, sexier, more explicit, more obscene movie, I wanted to make an adult movie. This is not a movie for 9-year-old children. When your movie is rated R, you suddenly are making a movie about more grown-up themes. You’re not under the pressure to make a movie for everybody.” This movie is not for children, and is expressly for adults, exploring themes that are too delicate for most children. Aside from the R-rating allowing Mangold to show the fans Wolverine’s true, bestial nature and animalistic thirst for blood, the rating opened up other, more important doors that were essential to making the subject matter in “Logan” work.
Star Hugh Jackman
Star Hugh Jackman first expressed gratitude for the acceptance of the film and its rating and thematic pushing of boundaries:
We set out together, Jim and I, from the beginning, and everyone here [Patrick Stewart, producers Simon Kinberg and Hutch Parker] knowing that it’s the last time I would be playing the role. We set out to make a movie that was not defined by genre, that wouldn’t be defined by a rating, that wouldn’t be defined by previous films in the franchise, but just to make a great movie, and the fact that we are at The Berlin Film Festival is a dream come true for us, so thank you everyone. I’m going to be honest, when I saw the movie, I was very nervous, knowing what was at stake for me, and I was so – it exceeded my expectations. I looked at that character, and there were some moments I thought, some weird places like carrying Charles Xavier up the stairs – just places, and moments when I thought, ‘I love that character.’ It’s part of who I am, and I’m grateful for it.
Jackman then expresses why the film worked so well with Mangold at the helm:
The reason I never hesitated to reach out to Jim Mangold, is because he’s a great storyteller. For me, great stories illuminate who we are, our everyday existence, and also make us look at the world beyond ourselves. And Jim immediately said, ‘Let’s tell a story about family from the point-of-view of someone who is terrified of intimacy,’ as in Logan. And let’s set it in a world where you feel like things are shifting, and a similar dynamic of, ‘Should we separate or should we connect? Is it safer and easier to just live on your own? Or is the messier, sometime frustrating, even potentially dangerous nature of connecting -‘ you know, that’s part of the larger tapestry. It doesn’t matter if it’s a horror movie genre, a romantic comedy, a superhero movie, a western, there’s no-one better than Jim who knows how to tell a story. And yes there’s resonance, I hope there’s resonances, I hope it makes people think about their day to day life. I love that we have a “superhero movie” where you have the main character looking after an ailing, father-type figure. Whether they’re in a car and they’re going to run out of gas and, ‘Damnit, my phone is out of charge and I need a battery.’ You know? The day to day – I’m proud of that, and I hope it does make people think more importantly about violence, the effect of it, the aftermath of it, and I hope that resonates.
The actor expressed his apprehensions about casting such a young actor. However, endearingly, he showed a lot of love to his young costar, making all of our hearts full of warmth:
I just want to say what an extraordinary actress Dafne is, and her performance I am so proud of. I will admit, when Jim first told me the idea of the story [on the set of “The Wolverine”], I was like, ‘This sounds awesome, but how the hell are we going to pull that off?’ You know? This is a lot for an eleven-year-old. How do we find that? And it was so clear with Dafne. But, what you don’t know, unless you can intuit from the screen as Jim said, she’s an extraordinary young girl. I’m so proud of you, Dafne and what you’ve done. I’m really proud of who you are and how you’ve handled it, and I will always know you as the little bird who jumps.
The star also explains that the violence is not the main focus nor point of this film, while praising everyone involved, especially the fans, to which he calls his Wolverine “swan song” a personal love letter. He even goes on to say that this is the film he wants his grandchildren to see out of all his portrayals of the iconic Wolverine character:
I remember being very starstruck when I met Patrick Stewart. I was at drama school watching the John Barton “How to Play Shakespeare” tapes, which he [Stewart] stars in. And I remember saying, drunken to one of my friends, “One day I’m gonna work with Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellan.” And then literally months later I turn up on set and they’re both there, I could barely speak to them. Simon [Kinberg] from early 2000, Jim and I first worked together in 2001. This character has been within me for 17 years, but not until this film do I feel like I’ve really got to the core of it, to the heart of it. And I’m not blaming anyone; sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes it’s just the nature of storytelling, you have 20 characters. When Jim and I first got together, I was like, “Jim, I want my grandkids to ask me when I’m 80, ‘which one of those movies should I watch?’ And I want to say this is the movie that defines his character.” So there was a lot at stake for me and my love for that character, my love for the fans. I feel this movie is a love letter to Wolverine fans. But beyond that, I wanted to make a movie that someone who’s never watched a comic book movie in their life would see and get something out of it. We grow with the times, I grow with the times – I couldn’t have made this movie four years ago. I couldn’t have made this movie without every single person on this table, on this platform. I couldn’t have done it, because we went outside the box, and we asked everyone to come onboard, and literally everyone said yes within a minute.
Director James Mangold
James Mangold illustrated how he worked with such a young child (Dafne Keen) without risking traumatizing her with the subject matter:
Many films today have children, I think that nothing is more important to me to than showing care to all the cast. That would, of course, extend to young Dafne Keen. All of us on this stage, for all the children in the film involved, did our level best to create an environment of love, which came naturally. I’ve made three movies with this man [Hugh Jackman]…Many days we spent doing driving scenes where Dafne and Hugh and Patrick would be playing board games and singing in the car. I think it’s important to remember that making a movie is very different than watching it. This is an act that we were together everyday having a great time. At the same time, I felt responsible to only consider [casting] young people with smart parents who knew how to contextualize what was going on for their kids and a smart child. In the case of Dafne, she’s a kid who has grown up around acting.
Mangold then articulated how important the R-rating was to explore the adult themes he wanted to portray and the creativity it allowed him in making this film:
The ratings exist for a reason. And this is not a movie made for children. We cannot explore questions of violence and children and fatherhood and other stories if we cannot make adult movies with children. Obviously, we have to be able to make movies with people of all ages and kinds. But this film is rated R in America, I’m sure it will have adult ratings in every territory it opens with of some kind. The important thing for me was that yes, we’re giving fans a vision of Wolverine’s potential for violence as they may have hungered for. Yes, we have some explicit, naturalistic language in the film, but there was another thing that was very important to me having made a lot of movies now, and being used to the way movies function as an economic unit as well. When a movie is rated for adults, it is also made for adults. That means that the studio, the marketing machines around the world all understand that we are selling this movie to grownups. And that gave us the freedom to make a movie for grownups; separate from the violence, separate from the language, the ideas in the movie suddenly don’t have to be for an eleven-year-old.
He also credits 20th Century Fox for this freedom and taking a risk with the R-rating in “Logan”:
It’s chic and it’s normal to kind of talk about movie studios like they’re the enemy, and that’s not the case. I was able to make the exact movie I set out the make. It is the direct result of the fact that everyone at this table was united and supportive, and that the studio is here representing. At every point when they [20th Century Fox] could have been frightened by the fact that we were making something out of the norm, they supported us. And I think it came rom the deep recognition that the formula of these movies is getting stale. And it’s absolutely imperative that, from big movies to small movies, we keep experimenting. But that took guts because it’s more easier to do the same thing and make sense on an excel spreadsheet like they did last year, until it fails or goes belly-up. Then you change the formula while you’re still making movies the other way. So I deeply thank my peers at the studio who I think put tremendous trust in us, and let us play, and so I’m grateful.
Perhaps most importantly, Mangold highlights the recent rise in seemingly unlimited inappropriate content for both kids and adults on television, which is far more easily accessibly than films in theaters are. He underscores the importance of parental discretion, as well as highlights a casuistry in the film industry about violence in PG and PG-13 films:
Right now, in television, there are shows airing on your television that are far more violent and explicit than this film. So these are questions in general that involve your [the parent’s] decision about what your 15 year old watches. We just need to be careful that we remain thoughtful as we talk about difficult subjects. Meaning: violence, sexuality, obscenity cannot only be defined by what a board puts a letter or a number on. It’s really important for us to remember that in many PG or PG-13 movies, hundreds of people are killed, it’s just made with a little less blood. So, are we ok with our kids watching movies where 250 [people] die but they don’t bleed? These are interesting questions. To me, the question really involves what can your child handle, and that’s not my job, that’s your [the parent’s] job. My job is to try and make something interesting.
Mangold goes on to explain how he modeled this film after westerns “Unforgiven” and “3:10 to Yuma” with their themes of cyclical violence and with the incorporation of the meta-comic book references throughout the movie:
If you’re a character in the twilight of your life, looking back on your career, and there are all these pieces of evidence of your achievements, maybe some false, maybe some exaggerated, maybe some true. One of the things that Hugh and I talked about from the beginning was the film “Unforgiven,” and it had an effect on us, and if you remember in that film Richard Harris plays a novelist of cowboys of the day. So you have this unique kind of tension between an actual retired killer in Clint Eastwood’s character, Bill Munny, and a man who tells exaggerated and romanticized tales about him. I also played with this in “3:10 to Yuma,” where Logan Lerman’s character is reading about people like Russell Crowe’s character, and I feel like part of we make now – we’re dealing with legends. We’re dealing with our own publicity machines, and I think it relates to the characters – how they deal with their own PR, even superheroes.
Producer Simon Kinberg
Long-time “X-Men” series producer, Simon Kinberg elaborated on the risk of the edgy content and the overwhelming payoff:
This movie is different than the other movies that we’ve ever done because of Jim and Hugh wanting it to be different, wanting it to be more honest and dramatic and emotional we’ve done in these films before. And it was something we set out to do from the beginning with models like “Unforgiven” and “3:10 to Yuma” and [old] Westerns as models and paradigms for the movie more than any other comic book movie.
Star Sir Patrick Stewart
Sir Patrick Stewart chimed in, giving his two cents on the “controversy” surrounding violence and children in the film:
Here’s one aspect of the Dafne story. In the movie, we see her, initially, as an enigma and a mystery. And then we learn she is a killing machine. But as the film progresses, and particularly, as she becomes increasingly under the influence of Hugh’s character…[she learns the concept of] love. And that is why all the actions in the movie [particularly those of Dafne’s character] are appropriate, optimistic, and possible.
To wrap the conference up, Mangold gave his final two cents on not holding back on showing the full consequences of violence as a cautionary tale for viewers:
[This movie reflects] Blood? Yes. Violence? Yes. But lives end, and they don’t come back. And that is the consequence of violence, which I think is too often ignored, and a very important thing for us all to digest, in my opinion.
As one can discernibly infer from The Berlinale “Logan” Press Junket, all of the filmmakers, actors and producers who were involved vehemently back the film’s rating, its realistic portrayal of violence and its actual consequences and the decision to break away from the typical superhero formula that disregards mass-destruction and the real-life consequences of the heroes’ actions.