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Warning: This article contains spoilers for Logan, out in theaters now!
Logan is a superhero film like no other; a bloody and brutal Western, it shows all the blood and guts you'd expect from a rampaging mutant with a habit of snikting out his adamantium claws. But it's also an unusually understated film, with some beautifully poignant character moments and subtle backstory.
Probably the most heartbreaking example is that of #PatrickStewart's Charles Xavier. By 2029, Xavier is a recluse, kept away from others for their own safety, and heavily medicated to keep his powers in check. He's guarded by #HughJackman's haunted Wolverine, and over the course of the film, we learn just how the duo ended up in this heart-wrenching predicament.
The Westchester Incident
Here's the tragedy; the most powerful mind in the world is suffering from a degenerative brain disease. As we soon realize, Charles Xavier's powers intermittently flare out of control. At times of stress or panic, he's vulnerable to seizures — with disastrous consequences. We see telepathic and telekinetic energy sweeping out of Xavier, slamming into the minds of those around him. It's immediately clear that those psychic maelstroms could be fatal for anyone near him.
What a sad, sorry ending for Charles Xavier; but the film subtly adds to the tragedy, hinting that the world is aware of his threat. He's even classified as a WMD in his own right, and finally we learn why. After a seizure in a hotel, Logan listens to part of a radio report that speaks of the 'Westchester Incident'. He cuts the radio off as the announcer refers to the deaths of several X-Men.
What a heartwrenching twist. The man who founded the X-Men was responsible for their deaths; the mind that gathered them together is the same mind that kills them. It's little wonder that Xavier's mind suppresses that knowledge, unable to handle the trauma — at least until the very end of his life, when he remembers it just before his death at the hands of X-24. This is high tragedy.
Why so subtle?
Surprisingly, screenwriter Michael Green has revealed that early versions of the script actually gave us a flashback to that scene. They actually showed Xavier's (first?) seizure in Westchester, and the deaths of those around him. In the end, though, the crew decided this wasn't necessary. As director James Mangold explains:
"I wanted to make a movie less about information and more about character."
In the end, the flashback isn't what matters. Logan is about the consequences, the regret for a forgotten but haunting past, the heart-wrenching sense that nothing is as it should be. Xavier spends so much of the film not knowing, and in a strange, emotional way the fact we don't get a flashback ties us to his own experience. As Green explained:
"I’ve found the experience of watching it is far more poignant to just know that it was something really regrettable and it was bad and most likely, friends were lost. Or maybe it was people we didn't know."
For #XMen fans, the possibilities are both haunting and disturbing. Given the X-Men were resurrected in Days of Future Past, did Charles Xavier himself kill his most beloved students? Did those original X-Men — characters like Cyclops and Storm, Jean Grey and Beast — die because of Xavier's seizure? Or had they already left the Mansion at Westchester, had they already moved on with their lives? We'll never know, and in truth that sense of mystery is just what the crew of Logan wanted to leave us with.
Personally, I love the subtlety of Logan, and I think this was the right decision. Sometimes the old aphorism is true; sometimes less really is more. In this case, we know all we need to know about the Westchester Incident, and we'll never know any more. Those early scripts are unlikely to ever surface, and even if they did — they're not canon anyway. Whatever really happened at Westchester, whatever triggered that first seizure, it's cloaked in mystery - just as it should be.