This has been a hard Christmas season. But a movie I watched last night unexpectedly helped me over it.
Losing my mother in November was the biggest. But just so many things, like every single tech device I have seeming to have problems. Or my TV breaking.
Or the septic system needing major repairs. Or …
Just lots of things. On top of paying the mortgage, the utilities, food. I was not in the best mood, at all, when the sink backed up. On Christmas Day. Our plumber could not get out until Monday.
I felt pretty bummed. Kind of like this:
OK, Not quite but along those lines. Only with more cursing.
Now I have a Christmas tradition of watching Christmas movies during the month of December – the traditional ones like Christmas Carol (the B&W one, the George C Scott one, or the Muppets one), Christmas Vacation, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, The Ref, Die Hard.
But I did not this year. I was just too stressed, too bummed.
I usually end with It’s a Wonderful Life. But not to this year since its whole narrative style – which I have always appreciated – immediately follows something good with something bad. Every time George Bailey thinks he is about to get out of Bedford Falls, something happens to destroy his dreams.
It is a roller coaster because that is what life is. Which is why I usually love it.
But when my roller coaster is going downhill, it seemed too dangerous to watch a movie with lots of them.
My wife suggested we watch the original Miracle on 34th Street on Christmas Day. The cast is so marvelous. Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn.
And its anti-commercialism, its anti-authoritarianism, its hope, are such a great messages.
But I cried and got upset because my mother would always remind us that the male protagonist, played so well by John Payne, had a last name of Gailey. That was how our last name was sometimes pronounced. (I may have a hard time with the Wizard of Oz as she would always say how Dorothy’s last name was Gale.)
Now the Christmas movies are supposed to make me feel good, not bad. But they did not help this year.
And then the sink backed up!
I was in a very bad mood the whole day. I needed some help. It came from a very unexpected source.
What did help was Keanu Reeves. In the movie John Wick! With a lot of killing.
Not something one would think of as a movie for Christmas.
But it was a real catharsis for my own feelings.
I got it for my wife for Christmas. It is a fun movie we have watched before, with a more interesting narrative than most violent action movies.
But last night it was recuperatory. It was revelatory. It was a Godsend.
Because in this movie, Keanu has gone through some of the worst things that could happen to a person. His wife of five years dies of cancer. The puppy she got for him to keep him from being lonely is killed by Russian mobsters who invade his house.
Talk about a downhill roller coaster.
He reacts by digging up his old work kit and then killing everyone who stands in his way to enact revenge. But it is more than just a revenge movie.
John Wick has personal relationships with many of the characters. He knows their first names. They know and like (or respect him). He is more than just the best killer in the world (In one of the best lines, the mob head says that John Wick is not the boogey man. He is the guy you send to kill the bogeyman.)
He is just a man, a generally well liked one. By people who want to help in any way they can to ease his pain.
Even as his whole world is taken away from him, he remains himself. He does not go Hulk and just start tearing everything apart. He does not whine in a corner (well he does cry extremely emotionally at what he has lost). He then picks himself up and does what his abilities allowed him to do well.
And talk about catharsis! Talk about abilities! He kills 76 people in the movie. Extremely efficiently. Some so quickly that you do not even know it happened. There is not a lot of lingering over them.
But he is not a killing machine. He gets hurt and gets tired. He has to adapt his tactics to what is available at the moment.
His guns run out of bullets and he has to figure out how to reload while fighting. He has to use whatever close-hand techniques to survive.
He has to overcome a lot of barriers put in his path.
He eventually gets his revenge. Bleeding and hurt, he accomplishes what he needs to do. And then moves on. Bleeding and limping. Battered and torn.
But, and this is one thing that raises this above most action/revenge movies, and why it was so helpful for me.
He does not do it alone.
Alone he would have died. Alone he would have failed. Alone would be death.
He has friends who helped him, who make critical decisions to provide what they can to help him.
And they do not help expecting anything in return. They like John, know he was hurting and want to help in any way they could.
That is when I realized that John Wick is more than just a fun action movie for people who like action movies. Hiding as an action movie is a movie about relationships, about life and about doing what we do.
We are able to make it through life, to accomplish what our skills best allow us to, because of the friends we have. The relationships we have. The connections.
Humans are social animals. We survive because of our connections. Relationships. Friends.
So I want to wish all my friends, the ones who help me when my roller coaster is going downhill, all the best. They made a big difference.
They taught me that. And John Wick. On Christmas Day.
Image: Susanne Nilsson