John Wick – The Catharsis of Grief

Grief, loss, and pain, all of these can have a helpful and cathartic outcome. There are always avenues out, but sometimes they’re hard to understand or deal with. John Wick is a 2014 film that explains the nature of how we can deal with this suffering. You know, by displaying it as bloody and vengeful murder.

While the insanity of the action sequences may override most of the more emotional beats of the film, there is still one that has always stood out (two sequels deep and people still talk about it) – the puppy. We open on John Wick (Keanu Reeves) as he deals with the death of his wife. She’s bought him a beagle, a pup to keep with him as he mourns the one point of normality his life has ever known, and he begins to love it quickly. And why wouldn’t you? The dog, Daisy, is adorable and lovely and sweet. I’m partial to beagles, having owned two of them in my life. When this is taken from him, brutally and left in his arms, he sets out on a course of vengeance that tears the only life he knew viciously apart. 

I’ve dealt with plenty of grief in my life. I deal with it in my own way, as everyone has their ways of dealing with suffering, but I also know that losing those methods would devastate me. When the way you deal with it is by caring for an innocent life the grief can become exponentially magnified to lose. Mourning is important. Pain is important.

And that’s the point of John Wick. This isn’t a series about a badass that is so capable he has a nickname depicting him as a nightmare (Baba Yaga…seriously, look that shit up). No, this is a story about how we all deal with grief and pain. When we leave it, each of us buries something of ourselves along with it. For John Wick, it’s his life as the demon in the dark. For most of us it merely means setting what hurts aside, learning to take it as part of every day and eventually incorporate it. Some of us, though, feel an anger associated with that loss – especially when we can’t properly grieve it. When robbed of that, what do you do?

John Wick goes apeshit on those that took it away from him.

I know this isn’t an option for most of us, but it’s something we all explore in our heads. Like it or not, everyone has felt vindictive at one point or another. Circumstances beyond our control may take that which means everything, but no one should be allowed to dictate how we deal with that. This franchise is a discussion of how we deal with grief, still even in the third installment. At this point the death of a puppy is merely a reference, but it’s also a discussion on how we move into the realm beyond mourning. Our suffering is multifaceted, but it allows us to create a new reality out of what we have lost. For John Wick, this means moving beyond the death of his puppy and his wife and into a realm where the world seems to be closing in on him. 

The man shoots his way through his stages of grief, moving from desperation to bargaining and even to anger. He offers to let a mob boss go in exchange for his son, rages against them when he in trapped, and even rejects the idea that he may fail from the outset of his journey. Each stages leaks out in his quest to balance the scales. And grief is most definitely about balancing scales.

Consider it. Stop for a moment to think about it. Dealing with loss, with grief and pain, is about finding balance within oneself. We can’t always physically balance the scales, and most of the time there isn’t any way to do that. For John Wick, his grief is tied to his wife. She didn’t die in a vengeful killing. Hell, she didn’t even die in an accident that he could blame on someone. Helen Wick died of natural causes, a disease that remains unnamed. And we don’t need to know what she died of because it doesn’t matter. No disease is anything we can exact vengeance on, nothing we can fight to balance the universe. Nature comes for us all, one way or another, and working through our grief is the only way to exact that evenness that we desire. And for this, John is gifted a puppy – something to love while he works his way through his suffering. 

I get this. Hell, I’ve even given a dog to a friend that is going through tough times as a way to have something to love, to hold onto, and to help them process the grief they’re suffering. Holding on to a living thing, a representation of whatever you’ve lost, is peaceful and meaningful and forces you to give in to what you’re feeling and process it. You have a life that needs you.

And this is what drives John Wick. He doesn’t have a way to deal with his grief anymore. Sure, the film is more complicated than that, but the idea that he has lost his only way to process creates a new idea that only an assassin could fully live out. Anyone who has lost someone, who has lost them to someone or something concrete that can be lashed out at, has indulged in this fantasy. And maybe that’s what this film serves beyond just a badass action movie full of headshots – it exists as a way to help process grief. I would have never considered that before but…here we are. Like John, this becomes a way to deal with your pain on a visceral level and allow yourself to go through the motions of grieving with Keanu Reeves as your avatar. 

Try it out. I’ve painted it as a vicious thing, but we’re human. Each moment of catharsis is a chance to let something go, to allow yourself to deal with a new facet of your loss. I promise, it helps. You’ll feel like a monster, but that’s what grief is. Mourn that puppy with John Wick, and in the end try to let it all go.

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