Further Thoughts on X2

         This is a followup to my reading of X2 as Wolverine's search for male identity. To clarify my point, I don't know a lot about the X-Men in general. I read a few comics and saw some of the animated series as a teenager, but that is about it. I am definitely not saying that the X-Men series as a whole has anything to do with male identity. However, I do feel that this particular X-Men story (X2) has Wolverine's search for male identity at its center.

         Immediately after I first saw the film, I was struck by how strange it was that Wolverine had his final resolution with Stryker holding a child in his arms. However, the more I thought about the film, the more of it fell in line with this reading. Here are some further thoughts on the film.

Masculinity as a Concept

         I think it is important to note that masculinity as a broad concept which covers much of human experience. That is, I would think that both men and women can identify with Wolverine's search to some degree. However, it is rife with the imagery of gender.

         As I see it, the lone wolf and the commanding parent are traditionally masculine archetypes. Thus, I call Stryker's hideous control over his son Jason as patriarchal. This is not to say that the same thing could not be done by a woman. But within our culture (and many ohters) that is clearly identified as masculine. On the other hand, over-socialization is classically feminine -- as illustrated by Jean Grey being unable to shut out the minds of others, or Rogue's power. I express this by saying that masculine and feminine are deep concepts. On the other hand, someone could equally well say that masculine and feminine are just common symbols for the larger, more underlying issues.

         The issues of parenting and leadership which the movie raises are not limited to men and nuclear families. The movie carefully avoids many simple parallels. While mutants clearly represent an oppressed group, they cannot be identified with any particular nationality, religion, race, culture, or orientation. Note that the movie starts with the image of the portraits of United States presidents, and its final scene is presenting the fictional current president with a choice.

         These are large issues of leadership, but I think they are also tied up with concepts of masculinity. That is, the movie presents a common theme. It suggests a common thread between Stryker's abuse of his son, Bobby Drake's unaccepting parents, and the oppression of feared minorities within a nation. I call this thread "patriarchy". However, that does not make it unique to men. Still, it is a particular concern for men.

Well-Intentioned Masculinity

         I left Professor Xavier and Scott (Cyclops) out of my first analysis, which was a significant omission. I think this is based in the plot, though.

         In the plot, the two patriarchal leaders (Professor X and Cyclops) were taken away and became tools of Stryker. Rather than fighting him, Xavier and Cyclops both were used as tools by him, and never took any useful action against the enemies. After being freed, Cyclops offers to use his power to blast open the doors, but he is told that this would be disastrous. While the film never denies that Xavier has good intentions, the film does portray him as dangerous, and ineffective at fighting the evil here. The true threat is from him, and it comes about from his patriarchal protectiveness of Jason-as-a-little-girl. Incidentally, this is foreshadowed when he orders Logan to put out his cigar -- jokingly threatening to make him think that he is a six-year old girl. This, I would say, is shown as Xavier's tragic flaw. He means well, but his attitude eventually makes him a pawn.

         Another side of Xavier appears when he visits Magneto's plastic prison and they discuss the parenting of both Jason and Wolverine. Magneto interprets Xavier as trying to make up for his mistakes with Jason in Wolverine, and also criticizes what he calls Xavier's withholding of information. However, Xavier is insistent that Wolverine needs to find his answers on his own, over both Magneto's and Wolverine's objections. I think this is positive, and helps to distinguish Professor X from Magneto.

         Scott similarly has a tragic flaw in his over-protectiveness of Jean. We initially see Jean Grey having a problem similar to Rogue: she cannot control her telepathy to shut out the minds of others, a distinctly feminine analogy. While well-intentioned, Scott is both overprotective and jealous. He then becomes a pawn of Stryker and violently attacks Jean. It is somewhat chilling that after broken out of the control by her, he says "I could see it happening, but I couldn't stop myself."

Positive Nurturing

         The film shows positive nurturing in more subtle ways. There is a brief cameo of Colossus, the muscular man who can change into steel. Like Wolverine, he is at the school and acts to look after the children. I think it is deliberate playing against stereotypes to have the hugely muscled powerhouse be the other nurturing male in the story.

         One of the cool moments in the film is when Wolverine hands over his soda to Bobby to chill. Here he is asking Bobby to express his power, in a first step toward non-patriarchal behavior. It is paralleled later when Bobby freezes his mother's coffee, which she reacts to with surprise and fear.

         A minor observation: As the soldiers enter the school and the boy goes out to see them, a nature documentary is playing on the TV. Over the scene, we see a mouse crawling in the wilderness and the narrator saying (approximately) "Every mother has to get out once in a while...".

Birth and the Absent Father

         It is a bit ambiguous how Stryker is cast as a father-figure to Wolverine. Certainly Wolverine has issues, and he has nightmare flashbacks. He sees nothing of his old life, however. Rather, his nightmares are the imagery of birth. Thus we have the water tank which he comes out of, the pain, and at one point see him at the end of a tunnel, screaming while bloody and naked looking at his claws.

         However, he remembers nothing about Stryker as a person. This is quite consistent with the motif of the absent, unremembered father-figure. This is a constant theme, especially in modern films -- from Darth Vader to Frankenstein. The son knows nothing about the father, yet is nevertheless filled with issues regarding him.

Wolverine's Choice

         Focusing for a moment on Wolverine, we can ask what his choice is. What does he pursue? Initially in the base, he abandons his friends to pursue Stryker. After his fight with Yuriko, he eventually catches Stryker, but then leaves him to return to his friends. He then faces Stryker again as they leave. He is twice asked to choose between: (1) leaving with Stryker and learning about his past, and (2) saving his friends or later caring for the mutant child.

         It is interesting to note that this is cast in terms of identity, not of morals or action. That is, Stryker doesn't try to order Wolverine what to do, or change his attitude toward mutants. Rather, he offers knowledge of the past. Even though he hates Stryker, Wolverine is tempted to pursue this, leaving his friends behind. He nearly does this twice: at the hall in the school, and in the base's control room.

         In my male identity construction, I cast this choice as representing the choice between (1) the negative paternal model, leaving your children and pursuing your career and more generally your previous pre-fatherhood life; and (2) being a non-traditional, nurturing father. This choice probably is highly influenced by my being a father -- but it certainly seems to fit with many points.

         This choice is then echoed in the final scene when the X-Men confront the president. This is where the movie suggests that the personal issues shown -- Wolverine's search, Bobby Drake's family, Pyro's rage, Stryker's evil -- all of these are at the same time played out on a larger scale. This was foreshadowed at the start of the film in the White House, when we saw the portaits of past presidents and then witnessed the assassination attempt.

         The president's choice is at its heart the same as Wolverine's. How does he deal with feared minorities?

John H. Kim <jhkim@darkshire.org>
Last modified: Tue Jun 17 16:36:09 2003