John Wick is a Modern Fairy Tale
June 7, 2019 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Naming John Wick for Baba Yaga instead of Koschei places him inside a lineage of feminine power, feminine wrath, and feminine antagonism to the governance of men. John Wick is not wronged like a man. John Wick is wronged like a witch. John Wick is wronged like the only woman the king fears, and the only person who can truly hold the king to his word.
posted by Sokka shot first (30 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lee Jeong-beom did it first in The Man From Nowhere
posted by JamesBay at 9:27 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


I had noticed the apparent misalignment of "Baba Yaga" with a male character, but I hadn't considered the fairy tale aspect. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by me3dia at 10:19 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


John Wick lost the woman that made him whole. Look not at his car, but at his house: he is meticulous in is care for it. It's loss, the loss of the dog through which he re-discovered his heart, the loss of the phone that held the last images of his wife, the photographs that burned in the fire.

John Wick is the curse of the witch whose heart has been stolen by bandits. The bandits sought only gold, but stole his heart, without which he cannot live. He hunts them, because without his heart, he cannot live.
posted by SPrintF at 10:28 AM on June 7 [19 favorites]


First we had Keanu in Point Break bringing that homoerotic tension with Swayze. Then we had him in The Matrix discovering his true self, taking a new name, and then being taunted and deadnamed by the establishment. Now we have him as a female-coded antihero? Damn, Keanu. Are you doing this on purpose?
posted by forbiddencabinet at 10:30 AM on June 7 [14 favorites]




i read 800 words of that mess before i thought to check imdb and confirm that no actual witches appear in these films
posted by wreckingball at 11:33 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


I just got around to watching the first movie last weekend and I came away thoroughly confused at the decision to call him “Baba Yaga” but translate it to “boogeyman.” That’s the kind of thing I expect in an English translation of a foreign work where the localizer doesn’t get the reference, doesn’t trust the audience to get it, or simply can’t work in an explanation. But they wrote it for an English-speaking audience in the first place! So.....wha?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:39 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Prepare for war: when your cat is a trained assassin.
posted by Carol Anne at 12:10 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Naw not buying it. The movie is dead simple and refreshing in its lack of subtext:

Man loses dog.
Man goes on murderous rampage.
(Spoiler)
Man gets new dog.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:02 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]


I mean, how else should a person react to mean people killing their dog? I thought his was a pretty restrained reaction to be honest.
posted by VTX at 1:05 PM on June 7 [19 favorites]


In the RPG parts of the web I hang out in, there's pretty strong agreement that the whole thing plays a bit like a game of Vampire: The Requiem (or possibly Vampire: The Masquerade); the whole secondary world Wick moves through (I do like the Kingdom of Crime name from TFA) has a lot of the feel of that setting, though with all the details...tweaked. It's a bit more than filing off the serial numbers, but it fits pretty darned well.
posted by Four Ds at 1:07 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]


It's actually representing a journey through tarot--what's on the very first card? A dog!
posted by betweenthebars at 1:19 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


so basically like Hawkeye in Endgame then
posted by The otter lady at 1:43 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


The 'because of the dog' take is a little weird for me because I did try to kill my 6 year old next door neighbor for killing my pet lizard when I was 5, and I remember thinking it was the right thing to do, and that I had to do it.

When I read Njal's Saga as a young adult, the ethic of retribution at the root of all that tragic violence was so comfortable and familiar to me it was like coming home to a native land and language I had almost completely forgotten.

And while I think the thesis of the article has merit – and I haven't seen John Wick in its entirety, but only through clips on YouTube – I recall Russian mob boss Viggo introducing the theme of the Baba Yaga in the scene with his son, and then going on to say that John Wick was the person you would send "to kill the Baba Yaga!", not the Baba Yaga himself.
posted by jamjam at 3:19 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


That does happen, but then they drop it and just have people (not Viggo, but various cannon fodder) refer to him as "Baba Naga."
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:00 PM on June 7


Now we have him as a female-coded antihero? Damn, Keanu. Are you doing this on purpose?

I’m gonna say yes.

@deanvannguyen
Some A-list actors and the number of their films directed by women (excluding voice roles)

Tom Cruise 0
Matt Damon 0
Will Smith 0
Brad Pitt 1
Robert Downey Jr 1
Hugh Jackman 1
Jim Carrey 1

Keanu Reeves 13
posted by chris24 at 7:56 PM on June 7 [35 favorites]


Slight aside: I saw the first film and wasn't terribly impressed; a lot of ACTION and pretty slo-mo photography, but for me the suspense held steady at about zero. Are the sequels improvements on the first?
posted by zardoz at 9:42 PM on June 7


The movie is dead simple and refreshing in its lack of subtext

The John Wick movies are consistent in that the villains are all people who fear and respect John Wick, who do not want to have to fight and kill him, but are bound by honour or by rules they see as unbreakable to march grimly into his path. They hold tightly to these rules to provide order, but the rules allow for and frequently produce viscerally unjust outcomes - the dog murder in the first movie, the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't contract in the second, the arbitrations in the third. The movies frequently contrast and conflate the trappings of wealth with signs of violence or thuggery, e.g. the "sommelier" gun dealer in the second one (they seem to include elaborate tattoos as examples of the latter - the ballerina with gang tattoos in the third one, but they also show her performing on a wounded leg because tattoos don't automatically mean organised crime any more).

There's some subtext there, is what I'm saying. It's not a realistic world by any means, but no allegory is.
posted by Merus at 9:42 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


And while I think the thesis of the article has merit – and I haven't seen John Wick in its entirety, but only through clips on YouTube – I recall Russian mob boss Viggo introducing the theme of the Baba Yaga in the scene with his son, and then going on to say that John Wick was the person you would send "to kill the Baba Yaga!", not the Baba Yaga himself.

My memory of the scene is that the exchange goes something like:

"Have you heard of the Baba Yaga?"

"The boogeyman?"

"No, he is the one you send to *kill* the boogeyman."

Which I interpreted as Wick being Baba Yaga, but Baba Yaga being above and beyond the boogeyman. That said, when they provided their subtitles in later movies (when they are clearly calling Wick the Baba Yaga), they did seem to just be translating Baba Yaga as boogeyman.
posted by Four Ds at 9:46 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


John Wick 3 was the first entirely story-free movie I have ever seen.
posted by fairmettle at 11:33 PM on June 7


That makes sense, Four Ds; maybe I can get YouTube to let me watch it again.
posted by jamjam at 12:14 AM on June 8


This seems like a lot of effort to spend on John Wick given that it is merely the latest in a long line of revenge fantasies stretching back to the beginning of cinema. Better than most, worse than some, but tuned to modern sensibilities in terms of how to keep the viewer's attention in a way that most are not since they are necessarily a product of an earlier time. Every generation has one of their own and probably has in some form or another back to antiquity.
posted by wierdo at 5:25 AM on June 8


merely the latest in a long line of revenge fantasies

I disagree. John Wick takes no joy in what he does. He has no "yippee-ky-yay, motherfucker" moments. He is in constant psychic and physical pain and it is pain that drives him. While one might admire Wick's talents and endurance, I doubt that many would want to be him.
posted by SPrintF at 7:54 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]


There’s a podcast, Jianghu Hustle, which looks at Wuxia films for tabletop RPG inspiration. Anyway, they discussed John Wick as maybe the best Western depiction of the Jianghu or “martial underworld” — a parallel society that is hidden from the normal world, ruled by strict codes, unbreakable relations, wonders, and violence. Wick is an almost archetypal retired master swordsman who is disturbed only at great peril. I think this matches the first two films better than a fairy tale, but I haven’t seen the third film yet, so....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:30 AM on June 8 [7 favorites]


"He is in constant psychic and physical pain and it is pain that drives him."
-@SPrintF

Sounds a lot like Death Wish to me? I enjoyed the first John Wick movie but I think @wierdo is correct that it's very much of a piece with a long line of revenge fantasy movies.

Also while no one wants to suffer intense agony per se, there are plenty of people who want to be persecuted and justified in their pursuit of vengeance. They want to feel that the wrongs they suffer are really wrong and the people wronging them are malicious and deserving of punishment. There is a lot more clarity when someone breaks into your house to steal your car and they kill your dog/new found hope for life (specific malicious act against you for bad reasons) compared to getting cut off while driving or being diagnosed with cancer (random bad luck).
posted by Nec_variat_lux_fracta_colorem at 9:56 AM on June 8 [2 favorites]




After reading through this thread, and the linked articles, I have come to a conclusion:

John Wick is a land of contrasts.
posted by nubs at 7:14 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


John Wick is a land man of contrasts contracts.

FTOOFOBPRIADLR

Fixed that out of fear of being punched repeatedly in a dimly lit room.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:55 AM on June 9


I like the theory, but getting involved with Grandmother Witch was the equivalent of an otherwise unstained, law abiding, person running out of options and bearding The Godfather while he was out on a Sunday walk.

Depending on the tradition, Baba Yaga was a monster (inhuman), a witch (other than human), or a wise woman alone in the woods (with all that implies in a dangerous world) - or, of course, some mix of the above.

But always a known (reputed) cannibal, and fey in mood. Punishments and endless tasks could be traded for knowledge or a favour, with only her family being immune from being instantly slain and consumed at a whim.

Baba Yaga was a dangerous trial - with a reward. Or, at least, a hazard to try and avoid.

Wick is the, as GenjiandProust said, known hazard of a sleeping dragon - an instrument of violence that is held in check by the habit/polite fiction of a chain, rather than its reality.

As for murderous rampages, nothing - for me - beats The Sword of Doom, where the interleaved plots just *stop* at the finale.
posted by LD Feral at 11:08 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


It's Quantum, Baby
posted by JenThePro at 2:26 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


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