John Wick : John's Son is Among his Victims. (2700 words)
Although I don't have much against the film itself, the success of John Wick really left a bitter taste in my mouth. When it came out, two things were said about it: 1-It’s good to see a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously 2-Its action scenes are monumental.
Personally, I would have greatly preferred to hear that a main character who shoots more than a hundred people in the head just because his car was stolen and his little doggy killed, does not inspire compassion or sympathy. In this first film, John Wick is terribly dislikeable. (Edit: now that I've seen the second and third I must say that people who enjoy these movies and root for Wick have a serious mental problem).
In JCVD, we see Jean-Claude Van Damme fight in court to obtain the right to see his children every other weekend and explain that if he shoots violent movies, he has at least always demanded that his characters have heart. Most action movie characters have human motivations to get into the killing. John Wick, he is just a monster and witnessing all these spectators and critic praise the film without pointing out this problem got me a little annoyed and worried.
Yet, the film itself is well aware of John’s limitations. When at the end, we see him walk away with a boxer that he just stole in a kennel, it’s hard not to wonder why he didn’t do that before. As we follow him through his exactions, we consider that he avenges Daisy (the little dog) because it came from Helen. We tell ourselves that a new dog could not have had the same meaning in John’s eyes… but it could have. If John can buy a new puppy at the end of the movie, he could have bought another one immediately.
So, why the slaughter ? At 50m22s, when he attacks Viggo’s nightclub, John has Iosef in the crosshairs for several seconds. If he were there to kill the young man, he’d do it at that moment. Yet, he doesn’t and Iosef runs away. At this point, John is unharmed and has only killed five persons, it is only once Iosef has escaped that the carnage truly begins.
In the following scene, John attacks one of Viggo's secret storehouses. The initiative has nothing to do with the killing of the puppy, the stealing of a car, Iosef or the death of Helen. We could imagine that if John does this it’s because Viggo sent killers at his house earlier on. But this reaction was understandable once our psychopathic assassin announced that he was going to kill Viggo’s son. John doesn’t hold a grudge against those who try to kill him. If he did, he would kill Viggo, not weaken his empire.
My point here is that the “I want to avenge Daisy” motivation is contradicted several times by the killer’s behaviour and that it rather seems that something is going on between him and Viggo that goes beyond the framework of the most obvious plot of the film.
The “stereotype” of the dead or missing ex-girlfriend whom the male hero remembers eternally without being able to move on is very often indicative of a subtext that hides behind the fact that the immaculate angel is neither an angel nor immaculate.
Casper (1995), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), or the Serie Monk (2001) all contain this fake angelic woman whose fascinating memory keeps the male character in a psychological dead end as he would need to give up on this illusion in order to understand “what truly happened” or “what is truly going on.”
Helen, John Wick’s dead wife, is exactly that: the absolution of a man defiled by sin; pure, sweet and innocent. Of course, she is no better than any other human being, but Wick takes the bait, simple-minded as he is. She dies of a mysterious illness and leaves him to his loneliness.
Then comes Iosef, the young rich guy who suddenly wants to buy his Mustang from a stranger who is filling his car up at the same petrol station. The proposition is absurd, it is obvious that the man who rides a beautiful vintage 1969 car in perfect condition is attached to it and certainly does not need the money he would make from selling it. Why does the little ruskoff offer to buy it then ? (I’ll come back to this).
Here is a bunch of relevant questions stolen from an article on melty.fr:
Why does Iosef hold such a grudge against a stranger simply because he doesn’t want to sell his car to him ? (Why find this guy, beat him up, kill his dog and steal his car ?)
Besides, why hasn’t he ever heard of John Wick ?
(Why didn’t Viggo talk about John Wick to Iosef before that day when his tongue suddenly loosens and he gives us a half-hour monologue about how John Wick kills people with pencils).
How did Iosef find John ? (There is no reason for him to know the address, yet there necessarily is one).
Why does the sun rise at different hours ? (I love this question)
Why doesn’t Viggo kill John when he has the opportunity ?
Why doesn’t John kill Viggo when he has the opportunity ?
These questions point at many unexplained elements and there are still many in the film. Why, for example, does Mrs Jenkins take the risk of attacking Wick in his hotel room when it means breaking the code of the assassins and getting killed a few days later as punishment ?
I’ll start with an idea that is necessarily false but to which there’s some truth, just to show how the logic of the “angelic woman” can work. It’s not hard to imagine Helen not being sincere with John Wick. Their moments of happiness together are very simple and mainly portray Wick’s fascination for his girlfriend who in return just asks him not to film her (There’s a reason why she doesn’t want to be filmed). After her death, the little dog and the love letter are tokens of her love of John… but why doesn’t she buy him a dog sooner ? Why does she let him experience a long day of existential crisis instead of buying him a dog months before her death and make him feel how much she loves it and how much she wants him to take care of the animal after she’s died. John could have committed suicide on that lonely day. A woman who would have truly loved him and wanted to save him, would have bought the dog earlier. I know it sounds far-fetched but it’s actually undeniable. If you know you’re going to die and it’s going to be an immense blow on your partner, your thoughts go straight towards “I don’t want him to commit suicide on the day of my burial. He can’t be alone on that day.”
So, if Helen is a liar, she needs to have an interest in being John Wick’s dream woman. What’s special about him ? He is the perfect killer, a one man army. He’s going to spend the movie killing people in the name of his dead puppy and his stolen car. In her letter, Helen says that John needs the puppy in order to have someone to love beyond his car. What kind of coincidence is that ? The fact that on that specific day, John’s first day without Helen, a group of villainous villain should find it relevant to barge into his house, break his face, break his dog and steal his car because he didn’t want to sell it to one of them. I bet that if in her letter Helen had written “Now you’ll love apples, your car and this puppy”, Iosef would have eaten John’s apples too. And the best part is that these criminals have never heard of John Wick. They must be the sole guys in the city who don’t know who he is.
Such coincidences –incredible timing, target, surprising ignorance combined with surprising knowledge– do not exist.
My first idea was that decades before Viggo raped Helen who became pregnant and gave birth to Iosef.
Viggo being an extremely powerful man, Helen saw no way to take revenge. So she decided to seduce John Wick, the perfect killer, Viggo’s henchman or employee. The existence of Mrs. Jenkins’ character is a hint at a seductive approach** on the side of Helen because this killer (Jenkins) is Wick’s female version. Should he fall in love with a woman that suits him, it would be her, not Helen who holds him through guilt and more generally manipulation.
**Séduire, to seduce, latin seducer means to lead astray.
Helen’s illness would be related to her rape, she dies for and by what she suffered and she knows that her death will seriously get to John Wick. She sends him the little dog and love letter, but also contacts one of Viggo’s men, one of Iosef’s buddy, to task them of stealing the car, killing the puppy and teaching a lesson to the man. She triggers an unstoppable mechanism (She lights the wick) that will eradicate the man who raped her and the son who resulted from the rape.
However, many elements invalidate that idea interpretation. If I allowed myself to dwell into it, it’s because my alternative reading is also about Helen manipulating John but for a different reason.
Here’s my true interpretation of the story: Viggo and Helen are lovers. They want a child, sadly, Viggo seems to be sterile. Helen decides to sleep with another man, a strong, talented handsome man who will allow her to offer a brave son to her lover. This man also has the convenient quality of being a heartless monster, totally devoid of any ounce of sensitivity: John Wick. There’s no chance he’ll complain when Helen announces him that she wants to move on.
Regularly, John and Helen meet in this special hotel room, that costs Jenkins her life, to make love. Helen finally manages to get pregnant, she makes Viggo believe that the child is his. In order to get rid of Wick, Helen criticizes his job and requires him to choose between them, convinced that he will never give up the activity at which he is the best, killing, for her. Tragic irony, he accepts and gives his resignation to Viggo. It is in what happens then that we can deduce the story I’m telling right now: instead of wishing him good luck with his retirement and love story, Viggo gives John the most suicidal mission that he can imagine. There is no reason for the Russian man to react that way unless he’s secretly in love with the woman John is quitting his job for.
New twist of fate, John manages to exterminate every single target that Viggo gave him and retires to live with Helen who now has to carry on lying in order to protect her life and Viggo’s. We have to keep in mind that it’s John Wick we’re talking about… and not the ruthless John Wick who avenges a puppy and mourns his dead wife, a younger John Wick who has yet to experience love in any shape or form. So it is very imaginable that Helen got stuck in the relationship with him with no means to escape. Helen and Viggo’s only hope was now for Wick to get tired of this simple, quiet and boring life.
No luck, he was a psychopathic killer only because nobody loved him, now that he is loved, he does not need to kill anymore. Helen can no longer hope for an end to this madness and triggers a chronic illness psychosomatically. She wants to die.
The ordeal lasts 20 years at most as Iosef is 20 yo when she dies. It may seem like a long time but Viggo, Helen and John all are around 50 and the movie is filled with references to past events and lives. We’re watching the conclusion to a bigger story, not a simple “avenging my dog” one.
Eventually, when Helen feels that the end is near, she decides to tell the truth to her son. While she prepares the puppy and the love letter on one side, she also writes another letter in which she gives a name and an address to Iosef so that he can find his biological father.
She makes Wick experience intense loneliness so that he craves company, so that he feels the need for a presence. The little dog, the cute and clumsy little dog is Iosef coming to meet his biological father. The proposition to buy the Mustang is an attempt at impressing him, at making contact, at telling him that they are similar. The reason why Iosef breaks in Wick’s house in order to beat him up and steal his car arises from the pain of having been rejected by his father. Isn’t this idea a lot more convincing than an inexplicable grudge ? The impossible finding of the address of a complete stranger ? The weird desire to kill a puppy ?
Iosef can’t bear the dog’s cries because it disgusts him that this puppy should be allowed to love Wick and to be loved by him in return when the guy doesn’t even recognise his own son.
The meeting of John and Iosef turns into a complete disaster and if John, Viggo and Iosef take so long to kill each other for good it is because of these underlying dynamics. Viggo respects Helen’s wish that Iosef meets her true father. She was probably sickened that her real lover never knocked on John Wick’s door in order to take her back, and she may think Viggo was satisfied with raising her son and reigning over the empire he had obtained by losing her. And so, the dog/son initiative of Helen could be a way of taking revenge on Viggo.
At any time, the adoptive father could save Iosef’s life by telling Wick that he is his son… except that he loves Iosef and is incapable of making such a confession to a man as stupid and unworthy as Wick. Imagine John killing a hundred of people a minute, ready to kill a kid just in order to avenge his dog suddenly deciding that “oh well, I’m going to be a good father, that’s cool too” and snatching his son from Viggo. Viggo could not endure that, so he tries to protect Iosef by all means until it becomes obvious that he is powerless. Then he “betrays” his son, knowing very well that Iosef only needs to say one thing to save his life.
Iosef never shoots at Wick. It is very easy to forget it because we first see him hit John with a baseball bat, then in the swimming pool he tries to grab a gun. Still, he never does point a gun at John. His death is a pure execution. There are others in the movie –Jenkins, Marcus– is it how you die if you love John Wick ?
Ioef’s death is also peculiar in that the young man finds himself stopped not by a dead-end but by an excess of ways to escape = he could very easily run away from John. But Wick disgusts him too much, the psychopath has just killed his friend who was innocently playing the PS4 (How can any spectator witness that kill and keep any liking for John ?).
If at least John had asked him “why did you want my car so much ? Why did you barge into my house to beat me up ? What’s behind all this ?” … but nothing exists beyond his selfish little self, and Iosef lets himself be killed since Wick thus deprives himself of the exact thing that could have healed his wound: an unexpected son from Helen. Even better than the little dog.
And so John Wick fails. He fails to understand what is happening. He fails to love, and to realise that he is loved. Everyone loves him and says “happy to see you again.” The whole dynamic of the film revolves around Wick’s inability to become human enough for someone to judge him worthy of knowing the truth.
The ultimate irony could be that actually John very well knows everything from the start and simply does not care about the fact that Iosef is his son that which is perfectly imaginable. Wick is such a nihilistic character that making him kill his own son without much of an hesitation would be a very defining act.
Hence the ultimate shot of him walking away with a new dog: he could replace Daisy anytime and he does not need a car. He was simply destroying everything that Viggo had obtained in exchange for John’s “right” to retire. (Why would a man like John ask for permission to do anything though ?).
I’m sure there’s still a lot to learn about this story.