Warning: This post contains spoilers for Logan
It’s no secret that Logan owes a big tip of the cowboy hat to Shane. That 1953 Western — starring Alan Ladd as the titular gunslinger/reluctant bodyguard — has been regularly cited as an influence by Logan director James Mangold as the arc of Wolverine’s final adventure took shape. (At one point, Logan, Charles Xavier, and their traveling companion, Laura, a.k.a. X-23, are glimpsed watching Shane in a Las Vegas hotel room.) But Hugh Jackman tells Yahoo Movies that another Western came close to inspiring the ending he initially imagined for his signature X-Man, one that would have granted Wolverine a stay of execution. “I was really inspired by Unforgiven,” the Australian actor reveals, expressing his admiration for Clint Eastwood‘s 1992 Best Picture-winning drama that explores the dark side of the cycle of vengeance and violence that drives so many tales of the Old West.
In Unforgiven, Eastwood plays retired killer, William Munny, who hung up his guns to lead the hard, but soul-restoring life of a farmer. Still, when a lucrative opportunity to return to his former profession comes along, he can’t say no. Any hopes that this will be an easy job, though, are quickly waylaid by the harsh realities of an assassin’s existence. By the end of the movie, a physically and emotionally battered Munny adds several more men to his body count, and then walks away from that life for good…albeit carrying the lasting memory of their deaths with him.
The idea of a killer who has to continue living with the weight of all the lives he’s ended is the element of Unforgiven that resonated most strongly with Jackman as he contemplated how he wanted Logan’s own story to conclude. “It’s more powerful that Munny doesn’t die at the end,” he explains. “You assume he’s going to die, but by taking that final action and shooting everyone down, he embraces all the darkness he’s tried to put outside him. Now he’s got to live with it, and it’s almost more devastating.”
Jackman pitched the “Unforgiven ending” to Mangold during Logan‘s development process when the director was still dead set on ending the film with Wolverine six feet under. “It was always floated that Logan would possibly die,” Jackman remembers. “I said, ‘Let’s be open, because it may be more powerful for him not to die.” Ultimately, though, Mangold’s version of events — with Logan succumbing to his wounds after a prolonged final battle — won out. “James was always certain of that ending, and he was right,” Jackman says now, pointing out that Logan’s healing factor-aided invulnerability is what makes death a more fitting conclusion. “Unlike a human character [like William Munny], what’s most poignant for someone who is thought to be indestructible is him dying while saying, ‘This is what it feels like.'”