Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beyond the Dome: A Critical Analysis of Logan’s Run

by G. Jack Urso
 
Sometime in the 23rd century…

The survivors of war, overpopulation and pollution

Are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the

Forgotten world outside. Here, in an ecologically balanced world

Mankind lives solely for pleasure,

Freed by the servo-mechanisms which provides everything
 

There’s just one catch:

Life must end at thirty unless reborn in the fiery ritual of carrousel 

Logan’s Run (film)
 
Logan’s Run was released on June 23, 1976. It comes in as one of the last entries of pre-Star Wars sci-fi films, such as Planet of the Apes (1968), THX-1138 (1971), Soylent Green (1973), and Rollerball (1975), which explore dystopic realities that reflect the excesses of our civilization, though usually within a framework of then-contemporary social issues. In the case of Logan’s Run, as noted above in the introduction to the movie, those issues are “…war, overpopulation and pollution.”

Sound familiar? 
Under the Dome: The futuristic home to the world of Logan’s Run.
While the novel preceded the movie by nine years, it is the latter that made a lasting impact on sci-fi. Those critical of the movie might point to the disco-era inspired set and costume design, but the film struck all the right notes regarding its prediction of a youth-obsessed, consumer-oriented culture, and even technical trends such as smart phones and laser surgery. Nevertheless, those elements are really just dressing for the real ethical dilemma posed to viewers: How do we as a civilization survive in a world of limited resources? 

Despite the many conflicts around the globe today, there is little fear of a worldwide nuclear Armageddon. Certainly, there are legitimate fears of a limited use of nuclear weapons in a specific region, which would certainly cause great devastation, but end the world – a complete and total end of our civilization? The idea seems ludicrous today, but that was not always so.

There was a time, not so long ago, when young people went to bed never really knowing whether the world they left for slumber would still be there in the morning. The old idea of “annihilation by nuclear war,” seems so old fashioned that few take it as a serious threat, yet there was a time when that threat was very real, so real that school children were in fact required to practice “duck and cover” nuclear bomb drills. I know. I was one of those children.

The fear that everything we knew could be destroyed by the very adults who were supposed to protect us inspired both a mistrust of authority and an increasingly consumer-oriented leisure culture. These competing psychological reactions created a type of social schizophrenia in Western culture during the 1960s and 1970s, leading to an increased use of recreational drugs and sexually-liberated social mores, which play major roles in the world of Logan’s Run.
Official trailer for the 1976 movie.
 
The Novel

The seeds of the Little War were planted in a restless summer during the mid-1960s, with sit-ins and student demonstrations as youth tested its strength.

            By the early 1970s over 75 percent of the people living on
Earth were under 21 years of age.

            The population continued to climb—and with it the
youth percentage.
In the 1980s the figure was 79.7 percent.
In the 1990s, 82.4 percent.
In the year 2000—critical mass.
Logan’s Run (novel)

In the introduction to the novel Logan’s Run, published September 1967, authors William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson establish what they feel is the major cause of the impending Armageddon. The post-war baby boom ran for twenty years, between 1945 and 1964, and produced 76.4 million children. In 1946 alone, 3.4 million babies were born, more than had ever been born before in one year, and the numbers just kept growing: 3.8 million in 1947, 3.9 million in 1952, and over four million every year between 1954 and 1964 (“Baby Boomers”).

What Nolan and Clayton did not anticipate while they were writing the book in the mid-1960s was the eventual drop in the birth rate, but certainly the Generation Gap is a well-documented social catalyst of the 1960s and 1970s. Even a casual review of news and entertainment programs from the era will reveal a preoccupation with the conflict between the generations.

The novel, Logan’s Run, was published in September 1967, a crucial point in the 1960s. It comes right after the so-called “Summer of Love,” in 1967 - arguably the height of the peaceful hippie culture. After that, things got very violent. With 1968 came the Tet offensive, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, and the violent police action against protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – not to mention the increasing militancy of the Black Panthers and the Weathermen.

In 1967, Logan’s Run builds off the fear of nuclear war, mistrust of authority, and a growing sexual freedom and youth-oriented culture to create the premise of a controlled society with limited resources, but unlimited personal freedoms.

A Different World

Although the novel preceded the movie, it is the movie that most people are familiar with, yet those who read the book will immediately notice that the world the book is set in is a vastly different world than the movie. In the novel, the year is 2116; in the movie, the year is 2274. A minor difference, yet the further away from the 20th Century, the more believable the social evolutionary differences.

In the novel, the age of Lastday is 21, not 30, as it is in the movie. Sanctuary exists in the novel, but not in the movie. Instead of the futuristic flaming kill-sticks of the film, in the novel Sandmen carry revolvers not dissimilar to a classic Colt-45. In the novel, there are no giant domes, history is not forgotten, and, more significantly, in the novel there is no Carrousel – the fiery ritual in which citizens of the Domed City bid for life renewal.

The plot device of convincing young people worldwide to kill themselves upon reaching their 21st birthday is basically a flawed concept. The idea that such a movement, even in the face of starvation and disease, would permeate every culture everywhere requires a great suspension of disbelief that, even as a sci-fi fan myself, I cannot give the novel. As a result, the events that follow along become less “believable” within the framework of the story.

The movie, however, by transplanting the idea into a Domed City with a population whose numbers are maintained at limited, though steady level, makes the basic concept more believable. While the idea of voluntary euthanasia at a young age is challenging to embrace as a reader, increasing Lastday from age 21 to 30 gives the idea a bit more believability within the framework established by the movie.

Additionally, the age of 30 also exploits the 1960s axiom: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” This phrase summed up the generational gap and the youth-oriented counterculture of the 1960s, and the movie cleverly incorporates it, creating a stronger connection with the viewer than the novel’s terminus of 21 years of age.

Nevertheless, the decision to set the age for Lastday at 30 in the movie is entirely for a practical reason. Director Michael Anderson notes in the commentary to the film's DVD Blue-ray release that finding so many actors and extras age 21 and under would have proven time-consuming and problematic, so increasing the age had less to do with literary reasons than it did with basic financial considerations.

The Knowledge Gap

Another noticeable difference is the regard in which the characters have knowledge of the past. In the movie, the citizens of the Domed City are much like the Eloi in H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, ostensibly peaceful, physically attractive, yet completely ignorant about past history. Indeed, upon seeing the Sun for the first time after escaping the Domed City, Logan and Jessica do not recognize it.

In the movie, Logan and Jessica are dumbfounded when they encounter the ruins of Washington D.C., not recognizing Abraham Lincoln, the flag, and other relics of the presumably now-extinct United States of America. This is opposed to the novel’s approach where history has not been forgotten and is in fact celebrated, as in the reenactment of a battle from the American Civil War with androids dressed up as soldiers from the Union and the Confederacy.

In this regard, I believe the movie’s interpretation provides a more compelling sub-plot. The absence of historical knowledge among the Domed City’s citizens can be attributed to the classic sci-fi plot device – a global nuclear apocalypse wiping out magnetically stored data via electro-magnetic pulses (emps) and inaugurating a new Dark Age. Nevertheless, given the level of technology present in the movie I am not inclined to make that connection here. Considering the high level of control by the Domed City’s computer, the Thinker, it is just as likely that historical information is deemed non-essential and simply not disseminated.

Unfortunately, there is no novelization of the movie, just the original novel by William F. Nolan and George F. Clayton, so much of the backstory that would have been explained in a novelization is missing from the Logan’s Run movie’s canon. The filmmakers’ interpretation of the novel’s concept is separate and original enough that it deserves its own treatment, even nearly 40 years later.

Population Levels

It keeps everything in balance. One is terminated, one is born.
Simple. Logical. Perfect. Do you have a better system?
                                      –           Francis 7, Logan’s Run (film)

In the movie, Logan 5 tells the Old Man that the city has “thousands and thousands of people,” but how large is the Domed City and what is its true purpose? Few clues are presented in the movie.

In the film's commentary on Blue-ray DVD, director Michael Anderson posits that in the movie’s concept of the Domed City there is a zero-sum approach to the city’s population control: For every one citizen that dies, another must be born. This is to ensure a steady number of citizens so as not to tax the city’s resources. The problem with this approach is that it assumes each citizen will fulfill his or hers’ designated role within the Domed City’s society – an assumption that is undermined by the presence of the “cubs,” the violent juvenile delinquents exiled to the Cathedral Complex and who refuse to integrate into mainstream Domed City society.

The presence of the cubs taxes city resources without any positive contribution by the consumers – the cubs – yet the Sandmen do not target the cubs for automatic termination. Why then are the cubs allowed to exist in a closed society with limited resources? The answer is not clear. Director Michael Anderson, in the commentary for Logan’s Run on DVD, suggests that the cubs are children hidden away by older citizens who don’t believe in “Renewal.”

Despite Mr. Anderson’s very well-qualified opinion on the movie, this suggestion is rife with contradictions. The cubs live a hard, brutal life, impoverished and cut off from city services and adult supervision. Indeed, the cubs kill anyone over 15 who tries to remain within their ranks. This implies a tacit acceptance of the concept of Lastday and runs counter to the idea that cubs are hidden away by those who oppose the idea.
The architecture used for Biosphere 2 would be at home
in the Domed City of Logan’s Run.
One could make the argument that the reason the cubs are allowed to exist in a closed society is that their bodies produce carbon dioxide and other waste products that can be recycled and used to maintain the balance of the Domed City’s ecosystem. One lesson from the Biosphere 2 experiments in 1991 (the so-called “Bio-Dome”), was that maintaining a balanced ecology in a closed, self-contained environment is incredibly difficult. It takes an extraordinary level of technology to maintain a perfectly enclosed, self-contained, and truly balanced ecology in a domed environment (Winerip). This suggests that the Domed City is not necessarily self-contained, but draws from the environment air, water, and as Logan himself suggests in the movie, power from the tidal motion of the ocean.

The purpose of the Domed City is to preserve human life in the face of a global nuclear apocalypse until such time as life is once again viable “beyond the dome.” Since it is unknown how long it will be before life can once again repopulate the Earth, a rigidly structured society with internal population controls must be maintained. To that end, keeping the populace “pacified” with distractions such as sex and drugs in a highly automated society is a vital component in maintaining social stability.

Size Does Matter-But Not As Much As You Think

What size is the city? According to Logan 5, there are at least several thousand. Nevertheless, the question of the Domed City’s population level is not so much a matter of how many are needed to maintain a balanced ecology, but rather how few are needed to maintain a sufficient level of genetic diversity to ensure a viable population.
Francis 7 and Logan 5 visit the infant Logan 6 in the Nursery.
Anthropologist John Moore of the University of Florida studied this question as it pertains to multi-generational interstellar space exploration. He concluded that for a 200 year voyage at least 160 people are required to maintain a steady population level. Further, Moore calculated such a situation would provide each person with approximately ten possible candidates for marriage. Removing ourselves from notions of monogamy and marriage, that suggests at least ten possible sex partners per person – not to mention more causal encounters. Herein we can see the sexually liberated mores of Logan’s Run logically evolving from social engineering a sustainable post-apocalypse human society (Carrington).

Evidence from the movie implies that the existence of the Domed City is to preserve the genetic viability of the human race in the face of a global disaster. The individuals themselves are not as important as the purpose they serve, to ensure that a high-quality sample of human genetic material exists until such time as the outside world can be repopulated.

Computer Error
“The system is dying. The Thinker is dying.”
                          –          Ballard, Logan’s Run (Nolan and Johnson 147)

In the novel, the great global computer, the Thinker, is malfunctioning; however, this sub-plot is only hinted at in the movie and a greater emphasis on that fact would help to explain some discordant plot lines to the viewer.

In the movie, the Old Man’s existence in the Capitol building and the prevalent vegetation seen in the outside world suggest that it is ready to be repopulated and the controlled society of the Dome City is no longer needed. The Thinker, the city’s computer, however, is programmed to preserve the human race through the Domed City’s continued existence. Escaping runners upset the Domed City’s balanced ecology and must be stopped.
 
The Thinker considers over 1,000 unaccounted runners evidence of Sanctuary’s existence. Therefore, despite the computer’s truth detector verifying Logan 5’s statement that “there is no sanctuary,” he must be in error; however,  if Logan is in error, then the Thinker must also be in error since its truth detector is saying that Logan is telling the truth. It’s a classic Star Trek: The Original Series Kirkian computer-destroying logical paradox (see episodes “The Changeling” and "The Return of the Archons").

Box, the cyborg, is part-man, part-machine, and completely insane. In the movie, Box says he was built to process the food from the sea for the Domed City, yet one day the food from the sea stops coming. Runners then start showing up, so Box freezes them in the same manner as he froze the sea food. 
Box: Welcome, humans! I am ready for you. Fish, plankton, sea greens,
and protein from the sea. Fresh as harvest day. Overwhelming, am I not?
In the movie, over a thousand runners are said to be missing, yet only Logan, Jessica, and Francis get past Box. This means that Box must have frozen the rest. In the movie, we see only a dozen or so frozen runners, but the implication is that they are all there, or have some been processed as food and sent back to the Domed City for consumption? This further begs the question, what does happen to the bodies of those who flameout on Carrousel? Are they all reduced to sand like the runner in the beginning of the movie, or are their bodies somehow recycled?

Further evidence of the Thinker malfunctioning may include the scene of female runner in cathedral who claims she is only a green (though she is wearing red). Certainly the Thinker changed Logan’s lifeclock, but could system-wide errors result in citizens being put on Lastday before their time? More speculation, but a logical progression based on the scenes in the movie.

More evidence of system-wide computer malfunctioning is the existence of the cubs. Given the high level of technology, it can be presumed that genetic engineering is sufficiently advanced to design not only physical qualities, but also mental and emotional qualities as well. Docility and a propensity to follow orders would be desirable traits in a controlled society, so how then does the Domed City have so many violent, delinquent juveniles that the entire Cathedral complex is reserved for their segregation? I propose that this is further evidence of the Thinker breaking down.

Carrousel
Enter the Carrousel. This is the time of renewal. Be strong...and you will be renewed.
–           The Domed City computer (the Thinker) to
       citizens facing Lastday (film).

Did you ever see anybody renew?
–           Logan 5 to Francis 7, Logan’s Run (film)

One of the more bizarre rituals of the Domed City is Carrousel, where those facing Lastday are promised life renewal if they survive the experience. Director Michael Anderson in the commentary to Logan’s Run on DvD likens the purpose of this ceremony to that of the Roman Coliseum – bread and circuses to entertain the masses with a form of gladiatorial combat, and distract them from the meaning of their existence.
Carrousel: Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful looking corpse – in flames!
The concept of renewal isn’t fully explained in the movie and is not discussed in the novel at all. During the Carrousel ritual, last day participants gather in an arena in white ritual robes and death masks, obscuring their identities and individuality – a final sacrifice for the city. Bathed in an energy field, the participants float upwards and attempt to touch a white crystal at the top and be renewed, but of course, no one ever does. As they near the top, their bodies – consumed by the energy – erupt in a burst of spontaneous human combustion.

In the novel, special “sleepshops” provide the means for citizens on Lastday to end their lives peacefully and in private; however, considering the advanced scientific knowledge of the Domed City, neither Carrousel nor sleepshops are really needed. For example, given the level of technology it is possible that those on Lastday could be remotely killed, perhaps via a signal or poison delivered through their lifeclock palm flower and activated right on the second of the person’s 21st or 30th birthday (depending on whether you prefer the novel or the movie version). In this model, running becomes a much less likely event.

For argument’s sake, let us take as a starting point that the Carrousel ritual is a logically evolved social phenomenon of the Domed City. Referring back to director Michael Anderson’s comment about Carrousel having an analogous relationship to the Coliseum in Ancient Rome, the larger purpose of Roman blood sports – beyond that of simple diversions – is to acclimate the populace to violence and death in an age when people died young.  

Interestingly, few gladiators lived beyond the age of 30, with the average age of death approximately 28 and most dying in their early 20s, so perhaps Anderson is onto something in connecting Carrousel to the Roman Coliseum (“The Gladiators of Rome”).  
Short documentary on the making of the 1976 movie.

Contributions of the TV Show

Into this mix, let us consider some elements of the much-maligned television series version of Logan’s Run that aired on CBS from September 1977 to February 1978. The series was launched by TV execs hoping to capitalize on the success of Star Wars, which was released on May 25, 1977 – about a year after the Logan’s Run feature film – and inspired widespread popularity of the sci-fi genre as never before.

The television series very much emulates the Wagon Train* concept of visiting different groups of people every week, a model introduced into the sci-fi genre by Star Trek. Indeed, a few of the people involved with the television series, such as story editor D.C. Fontana and writer David Gerrold, were Star Trek veterans. [*Editor’s Note: Wagon Train is a Western TV show that aired on NBC from 1957 to 1962 and on ABC from 1962 to 1965]

The first concept from the series that could be further developed in future versions of Logan’s Run is the Council of Elders – a group of senior citizens who secretly control the society from a hidden enclave. This idea provides a deeper, more sinister meaning behind Carrousel. Renewal may indeed exist after all, but as a selection process for replacements to the Council of Elders who guide the overall survival of the Domed City.  

There is a given limitation of experience in a population whose eldest person is 30, so a secret council of elders, those over 30, selected from the Domed City’s population to live in a separate, hidden area – a utopia within a utopia – provides a deeper level of control. Due to the need to maintain a stable population with limited resource, the age limit of 30 is maintained for most citizens and only a very small minority are given the privilege of an extended lifespan. Obviously, keeping the Council's existence secret is based on the fear that, if known, it would upset the social stability of the Domed City.

The second concept is the introduction of a fully autonomous, self-aware android/robot, Rem (portrayed by actor Donald Moffat), into the Logan’s Run universe. Though their existence is only implied in the movie, there are plenty of androids and robots in the novel; however, none are self-aware to the point of near-human consciousness, as we see in Rem.

Rem, the android.
Given the sophisticated level of computer intelligence seen in the books and movies, and given the cybernetic technology implicit in Box’s existence, being able to create an android with an artificial intelligence should have been a logical extension in the novel, if not the movie. While there are androids in the novel, such as those used to reenact scenes from the U.S. Civil War, they are never portrayed with the same level of autonomy as Rem, or say Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Rem serves as a commentary on what defines humanity to the Domed City refugees, Logan and Jessica, who are really searching to find their true natures, as much as any sanctuary. Further, an android could have a lifetime much longer than 21 or 30 years, therefore providing a historical perspective that the Domed City citizens lack. While there are earlier models for self-aware androids through Isaac Asimov’s writings, or Gene Roddenberry’s The Questor Tapes, Rem predates Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation and is divergent enough from the ‘droids of the Star Wars universe to warrant inclusion in the Logan's Run canon.

Conclusion

Even though the world of Logan’s Run is filled with free love, recreational drugs, and the leisure-time benefits of high technology, both book and movie are essentially conservative in message and anti-technology in tone. Ultimately, it is not polygamous sexual relations that are regarded as important social mores, but rather monogamous relationships. Technology is regarded with suspicion: it spies, controls, tracks, tortures, and kills – the Thinker itself is breaking down. Though dressed up in the gloss of an advanced utopian society, the world of Logan’s Run is a decrepit and dying dystopia.

The idea of Sanctuary as presented in Logan’s Run, the novel, is a literal place; however, the film takes a more literary tact in suggesting there is no Sanctuary. What is a Sanctuary after all but a place of refuge from the apocalypse? It is a place that promises an easier life. Now, what sort of place does that sound like? To me, that suggests the Domed City itself – the place Logan and Jessica seek is the place they escaped from. This is a variation on a theme worth exploring in future interpretations.

Perhaps, that is the ultimate lesson of Logan’s Run – that the paradises we seek are often the ones we leave behind.


Related Content 

Images from and inspired by the movie Logan's Run with Jerry Goldsmith's introductory theme to the motion picture, a mix of traditional orchestrations and electronic music. 
“Baby Boomers.” History.com, A&E Television Networks LLC, 2014.
               Web. 18 July 2014. <http://www.history.com/topics/
               baby-boomers>.

Carrington, Damian. “"Magic Number" for Space Pioneers 
               Calculated.” New Scientist. Reed Business
               Information Ltd., 15 Feb. 2002. Web. 18 July 2014. 
               <http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn1936-
               magic-number-for-space-pioneers-calculated.
               html#.U7Kiw2dOWHs>.

Logan’s Run. Dir. Michael Anderson. Perf. Michael York, Richard
               Jordan, and Jenny Agutter. United Artists. 1976. DVD.

Nolan, William F, and George Clayton Johnson. Logan’s Run. New
               York: Bantam, 1976. Print.

“The Gladiators of Rome.” BBC. BBC.com, 17 Feb. 2009. Web. 19 
               July 2014.  <http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/
               messageboards/brunel/A46178445>.

Winerip, Michael. “A Second Act for Biosphere 2.” The New York
               Times. The New York Times Company, 10 June 2013. Web.
               19 July 2014. < http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/
               booming/biosphere-2-good-science-or-bad-sense.html?
               _r=0>.

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