'Logan' Director James Mangold Explains 'The Westchester Incident'

When Logan begins, you feel like you've missed about five movies worth of story and that's entirely by design. The last time we saw the X-Men, they were wearing cool costumes and jet-setting around the globe and battling super villains. And now, the man once known as the Wolverine is driving a crappy limo and taking care of an ailing Professor X, living a miserable life where the only goal is buy a boat and get out of the desert. It's painful. It's upsetting. And once again, that's by design.

The backstory, how everyone came to be in this situation, is filled in slowly. Logan is a movie that takes its time, saving information until you absolutely have to know it. One vital piece of backstory, the "Westchester incident," is eventually explained, albeit vaguely. It turns out that director James Mangold original dwelled on this defining moment a whole lot more.

Spoilers ahead, of course.

The Westchester Incident

Professor Charles Xavier, one of the most powerful minds (literally) on the planet, has fallen. When we meet up with him in Logan, he's a shadow of his former self: a old man kept in check by medication to prevent seizures, the result of an unspecified illness (he shows signs of dementia and Alzheimer's disease). Since Professor X is a powerful psychic, those seizures have horrible side effects – everyone in the vicinity is paralyzed by an unseen energy, which quickly begins to kill them. Only Logan, with his enhanced healing and stamina, can withstand them.

We see these seizures twice in the film, once in the isolated compound Logan, Caliban, and Professor X call home, and once in an Oklahoma City casino after the professor forgets to take his medicine. In both cases, a catastrophe is avoided. Patrick Stewart, playing a proud man undone by circumstances he cannot control, is heartbreaking.

Throughout the film, various characters refer to a another event, known only as "the Westchester incident." Since Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters was located in Westchester, New York, we know that whatever went down occurred at the mansion the X-Men called home. More importantly, whatever happened there was awful enough to send Logan and Charles into hiding south of the border.

We never get the complete story, but the good professor, in a moment of clarity, explains the basics: he was struck with one of his seizures and 600 people were hurt and seven were killed. The implication is awful: the failing mind Professor Charles Xavier destroyed the X-Men. Not Magneto, not a team of robotic Sentinels...just a disease brought on by age and time. In a movie filled with gut punches, this one especially stings.

logan trailer breakdown

The Original Opening

It turns out that the Westchester Incident originally occurred on screen. Speaking with Coming Soon, director James Mangold revealed that this moment was written in the script and intended to be the opening scene of the movie, but he ultimately decided against it:

Yeah, I wrote that scene. I wrote it, and at one point, it was even the first scene in the movie. [...] It also made the movie about that. It was really interesting. It suddenly made the movie about X-Men dying, as opposed to allowing the movie to be a kind of unwinding onion, like allowing you to kind of enter the story and go, "Where is this going?" It was so large and loomed so large, and I felt like it also was still falling into the formula of the movies, with the big opener, that is setting up the mythology first. I thought, "What if we do an opener that leans into character first? Actually underplay those things?" Let them just feel like it's more like a [...] normal thing, like it's happened. And instead of underlining it, yeah. Just let it live in the background of all these characters.

To the viewers, this choice makes for a profoundly sad moment – we slowly learn that our heroes fell not because they lost a grand battle, but because of a tragic and awful accident that no one could have seen coming. We all age and we all hurt and well suffer loss. Even the superheroes. When the credits roll on Logan, Wolverine and Professor X are both dead and you can imagine the same question ringing through their minds in their final moments: what could I have done differently?

Logan is in theaters now. For more spoiler-filled talk with James Mangold, you can read our interview with him.