Logan’s Run: An Allegory of the Cave
(Click here to check out the previous essay for this month’s Sci-Fi series: Outland)
The year is 2274. The earth’s inhabitants live in giant domes in hedonistic society where pleasure is first and foremost, and all inhabitants are young. At birth, a white crystal is surgically placed into the palms of each child. Over time, the crystal becomes darker. And at the age of 30, the crystal becomes black: this is Lastday, a time of renewal when the oldest citizens go to Carrousel and voluntarily die on the off-chance that they will be renewed as a newborn baby in their next life.
This dystopian situation veiled in a utopian dream of eternal life and joy, is a nightmare for those free-thinkers who realize that rebirth upon Carrousel is impossible and that the blackness of their crystals is probably not the end of their lives. Those that realize they may be able to escape and live into old age are known as Runners. The Sandmen are police officers hired to track down and destroy Runners to keep society functioning. Logan 5 (Michael York) and his friend Francis 7 (Richard Jordan) are Sandmen. They are both about four years away from termination, but a series of odd circumstances puts them in precarious situations. Logan 5 is brought to headquarters where he is debriefed on the symbol of the hooked cross, the Ankh, and that it is somehow connected with the notion of Sanctuary, a place where 1056 unaccounted-for Runners have supposedly escaped to. The machine changes Logan 5’s crystal to a pulsating red and thereby takes four years of his life from him. He is under orders to become a Runner for the State to escape from the city and find Sanctuary so that the Runners there can be destroyed and any future potential runners will be dismayed and unlikely to make their runs.
Later, at his flat, Logan 5 hires a pleasure companion for the night. the woman who appears, Jessica 6 (Jenny Agutter), wheres an Ankh around her neck. Logan 5 decides to use her to gain ore information about Sanctuary and eventually the two connect up with the Resistance, which is destroyed by those Sandmen tailing Logan 5, including Francis 7. Logan 5 and Jessica 6 manage to escape the compound only to find, inexplicably and for no real plot point at all, that Box (Roscoe Lee Brown), a protein collecting robot for the city, has trapped all of the past Runners in blocks of ice. He tries to do the same to Logan and Jessica, but the two escape from his clutches and from out of the cavemouth into the light of the Sun.
They have never seen the Sun before, and as such, are confused about what it is. They only know on a visceral level that the Sun is a source of warmth and life for the planet. As they venture out, they discover plant life and animals, and later find that they are in the ruins of an old civilization (Washington D.C.) where people lived far into old age. They meet an old man in a decrepit old building and find that human beings in the outer world are born to biological mothers and fathers and are raised in their care (as opposed to parents in their own dystopian state that die not long after their children are born and are never sure which ones are theirs).
The Allegory of the Cave is a thought experiment from Plato whereby individuals live in a cave deep in the recesses of the Earth. Their oppressors have chained them to a wall since birth and performed a shadow-play of moving shadows and images before their eyes. The slaves never knew they were not free or that there was anything more to life than what they experienced in the Cave. One day, a man escapes from the Cave and ascends toward the light. He sees the sun and his eyes must acclimate to its rays. He learns of the real world and decides to go back to the Cave to free his fellow prisoners. However, when he arrives, they believe he is just crazy and decide that he is lying to them. The real world is playing itself out right before their eyes and nothing can convince them to leave.
Logan 5 decides likewise to return to his past world to tell the truth about the world outside. When he returns, he shows the people that his crystal, once black, is now white again. he explains that no one needs to die on Carrousel and that freedom is within their grasp if they will just take it. But the people laugh at him and Jessica 6. They don’t believe he is telling the truth and call him a madman. And if not for a series of explosions set off by Logan 5 that reveal the external world and the old man they have brought along with them on the journey, Logan 5 and Jessica 6 would surely have been killed or jailed.
Whereas the initial allegory of the cave is a thought experiment revealing the determinacy of social worlds on thought, the power of thought and philosophy and the revelation it brings, and the difficulty in converting the unlearned, Logan’s Run carries the thought to a political end. We are shown a world where people are manipulated by a State into willingly giving up the lion’s share of their lives. They are trapped willingly in a system that tricks them just for the good of some created social order. And once the philosophers ascend toward the light of Truth outside the Cave, they are not understood and taken for madmen. The difference here is in the implication that it takes radical destructive social violence to show the blind that they cannot see. In this sense, the film is politically and socially radical, and probably right. If we want society to change to a more free place, we must forcefully make apparent the chains on its citizens wrists. Even if that means total social upheaval and revolt.
[Next up: 2010: The Year We Make Contact]